Nowhere do competing theoretical, ideological and political views rage more fiercely, than in the debates surrounding the existence and organization of the modern welfare state. For some, the welfare state stands as a testimony to human achievement and social progress, it represents a refusal to take for granted the outcomes of supposed economic laws, when they affront the notions of equality and justice, expressed in terms of those values and attitudes that make social life viable and sustainable. For others it is an inefficient and ineffective system of bureaucratic measures that thwart individual effort, impinge upon civil liberties and perpetuate a culture of dependency. In order to explore such issues in greater detail, it is my intention firstly, to examine the notion of consensus, as it was applied to the political character of post-war Britain. In so doing, I would hope to identify the various elements that served to ‘legitimize' the welfare state and the ‘political consensus' that was thought to exist during this period, thereby mapping out the territory against which the subsequent discussion is set. Secondly, I will examine the proposition advanced by some commentators that the welfare state is in crisis, illustrating where necessary the assumptions that underpin such a position.
[...] Within such circumstances, arguments about the crisis of the welfare state and indeed its relevance and future are reduced to the level of assertion and counter assertion. A return to the free market, so deeply enshrined within the tradition of the New Right, dictates a return to the Social Darwinism of Herbert Spencer. If progress is predicated on the basis of the survival of the fittest, then it is the weak, by definition who must be allowed to go to the wall. [...]
[...] In the midst of an apparent consensus surrounding the provision of state welfare, such debates were seen as essential if further refinements were to take place within an overarching dynamic of progress. Inevitably, such overtures were critical rather than positive, they focused upon failure rather than achievement, thereby adding credence to and a favorable climate for a counter attack by the New Right. It has been said that the traditional defenders of the welfare state have failed to respond to the New Right's critique. [...]
[...] Gough, I (1979) The Political Economy of the Welfare State, London, Macmillan. Hayek, F. A. (1944) The Road To Serfdom edn., London, Routledge and Kegan Paul. Hayek, F. A. (1960) The Constitution of Liberty, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul. Hindess, B. (1987) Freedom, Equality and the Market, London, Tavistock Publications. Jones, Bradshaw, J. and Brown, J. (1976) Issues in Social Policy, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul. Levitas, R. (1986) The Ideology of the New Right, Cambridge, Polity Press. Marshall, T. [...]
[...] As the healthy economic base that had existed throughout the post war years began to shrink, so the resources available for the support of the welfare state also diminished. The gulf between the provision of essential public services and the revenue actually necessary to finance them grew ever wider, creating a fiscal crisis of momentous proportions. Indeed, the welfare state was itself seen by some as the actual cause of the difficulties within the British economy. By 1979, not only had Keynesianism been discredited as a form of economic management and replaced by more ‘free market' approaches, but the very rationale of the welfare state was seriously weakened, as the social aspect of the Beveridge plan somehow became detached from the economic component that supported its operation. [...]
[...] The Beveridgeian proposals, out of which the welfare state was born and the government's application of Keynesian economic theories in the management of the economy, were brought together to create a social and system integration. Within this broad conception, there were inevitably substantial differences of party policy in respect of particular issues, but these generally took place within the overarching assumptions about the relationship between the state and welfare. The effect of this consensus, was that for almost three decades, following the end of the Second World War, ‘controversies' about welfare were of a very particular nature, beginning from the assumption that the welfare providing role of government was both inevitable and desirable, with arguments about welfare taking the existing structure of welfare services for granted. [...]
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