selective versus universal benefits

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A major dispute concerning the organization of welfare regimes, addressing the issue of whether welfare should be delivered selectively to those in need, or universally as claims that individuals make of each other as members of a community. Advocates of the former strategy argue that selective benefits are targeted towards those in greatest need and therefore do most to relieve suffering. The advantage of the latter approach is claimed to be that it obviates the need for means testing: that is, provision of the benefit only after a bureaucratic (by implication demeaning) investigation and assessment of income and wealth which demonstrates need (usually in the form of inability to pay). Communitarians also argue that the universal approach has the effect of promoting social solidarity as against the individualistic sentiments of selective entitlement. However, making certain welfare goods and services universally available can have some unintended consequences, as for example when placing a ceiling on property rents simply discourages landlords from letting, or where security of tenure and rent subsidies in public-sector housing encourage people to stay in these properties irrespective of need. See also collectivism.

Subjects: Sociology.

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