Competing approaches to poverty (views on the welfare state)

Social democratic


We can identify the key components of this prospective in terms of 5 main components…

  • Meritocracy- Inequality is desirable as long as it is based on merit. Those who work hard, use their abilities constructively and therefore should be allowed to accumulate wealth and achieve higher incomes.  The differential rewards within society serve to motivate people to gain qualifications and experience. Tony Blair (1999)  “Ladders of opportunity for those from all social backgrounds, no more ceilings that prevent people from achieving the success they merit”
  • Competition- Based on people having different talents, attitudes and abilities that, by and large, they are free to use in whatever way society deems legal.
  • Mixed market economy- They believe in an economy characterized by both private and public economic activity.
  • Regulation- Believe that economic activity should be regulated through a taxation system. Thus the role of the state here might extend to things like equal opportunities laws (such as the Sex Discrimination act and the equal pay act).


Welfare state – Believe that the state should supply free-on-demand education and health. They currently outline that the welfare state is attempting to fulfill its duty but it is inefficient.  The social democrats main interest in this context of the state according to Veenhoven (1992) ‘Guaranteeing their citizens a minimum level of living by providing income supplements and services”. Supporters of Crosland and his ideals believe that the Uk government have ignored social changes that have occurred since the 1980s such as single parenthood, traditionally benefits had gone to families in the presumption that the father is trying to find work to support his family this may not be necessarily the case in 2015.




Marxists argue that the existence of the welfare state does not eradicate poverty but maintains it as threat to the workforce so they work; it also provides a healthy workforce for capitalism.


NHS example…

  • NHS is a means that benefits the bourgeoisie by ensuring that the workers remain well enough to work
  • Workers may understand their inequality but believe the system is fair (false consciousness)
  • Some Neo Marxists argue that the ‘free’ health service is a victory for the proletariat. As Tod Sloan (2003) writes “The raw effects of capitalist relations in class society have been softened to some extent by the effectiveness of… the state welfare system.. As ‘safety nets’ to ensure the basic health and housing to the unemployed… and the unemployable, particularly when the capitalistic economic system is undergoing one if its occasional recessions or depressions”
  • However, critics such as Le Grand (1979) argues that in fact the middle classes have gained more from the health service than lower classes – inverse care law. Whoever is more ‘needed’ for capitalism gets the best health care.


Solution- Revolution against the bourgeoisie to move towards a communist economic system.


New right (Third way)


The welfare system actually promotes poverty rather than reducing it due to undermining the will to work…


Indirectly causes poverty

  • High taxes discourage the efforts of entrepreneurs to start new companies that would create jobs, both high and low skilled.
  • It hinders, successful, established companies by burdening them with taxes,

Directly causes poverty

  • Creates ‘underclass’ as Murray outlines and a “Nanny state” and Marshland states.


Critics:  Welfare state and minimum wage help protect workers against the ruling class.  In the USA someone cannot claim more than a total of 5 years of state assistant meaning an underclass cannot develop and the state isn’t considered a “Nanny state” like the UK.


Solution to poverty

  • Wealth creation- The key to reducing poverty is to create wealth, individuals must be allowed free reign (with certain limits defined by fair competition)
  • Low taxation- For the New Right no personal taxation would be ideal, but some forms of taxation Is required to maintain the idea outlined below.
  • Minimal state Thomas Sowell – The New Right see the main role of government as ensuring the operation of a free market, in terms of setting and maintain basic ‘rules of order’. The state, however, should not have a role in providing a welfare system for the poor. He states that this shields people from the consequences of their behavior, it undermines the will to work as those who do work income goes to support the members of the ‘underclass’.


Past paper questions on the topic of “Competing approaches to poverty (and views on welfare state)


Using material from item 3B and elsewhere, assess the view that the welfare state had failed to abolish poverty (24 marks) January 2010


Examine the ways in which government policies attempt to deal with problem of poverty in society (24 marks) June 2010


Suggest three policies that government might use to reduce difference in living standards between rich and poor (6 marks) June 2012


Examine the role of the welfare state in reducing poverty (24 marks) January 2013