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welfare state


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A country with a comprehensive system of social welfare funded both by taxation and national insurance. The emergence of the strong secular state in 19th‐century Europe was characterized by the development of state involvement in education, public health, and housing. Public education systems were first introduced in France and Prussia early in the 19th century, while the need for housing and public health measures accelerated as urbanization increased in Europe. A scheme of social insurance against unemployment, sickness, and old age was pioneered in Germany under Bismarck, and other European states soon followed. In Britain a similar scheme, together with other social welfare measures, began to be introduced under the Liberal governments (1906–14). Between the wars significant developments towards its establishment took place in New Zealand under the Labour Party, while F. D. Roosevelt's New Deal in the USA created a series of federal social welfare agencies. In 1942 a report by William Beveridge proposed a comprehensive British system of national social insurance. His proposals were implemented by Clement Attlee's Labour government after World War II, which also introduced the National Health Service. In the Soviet Union and East European states welfare provision became an official part of the fabric of society. In the USA, the concept of social welfare support is regarded as being fundamentally at odds with the free market economy and so remains highly selective. Sweden is usually taken as the purest example of a welfare state, because of its interventionist labour market policy and integrated health care system, but Belgium and The Netherlands have more generous social security. In a welfare state, the proportion of GNP allocated to social expenditure can rise as high as 40%. In Britain, the heavy public expenditure required to distribute social benefits was increasingly challenged and a revision of the NHS and the social security system took place in the 1980s and 1990s under the Conservatives; further reforms were initiated by the Labour government from 1997.

Subjects: History — Politics.


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