We explain what the welfare state is, how this political concept arose. Also, what are its general and critical characteristics.

What is the Welfare State?

The welfare state is a political concept adopted by some forms of government in which the role of the state consists of providing equity to citizens by satisfying basic needs, promoting equal opportunities and the equitable distribution of wealth.

This concept  arises with the fall of feudalism , a time when the serf who lived under the exploitation of an elite became a free worker without the "protection" of the sovereign. Thus arises the concept of the welfare state that defends the social rights of all citizens.

At the beginning of the 20th century, after great crises and wars, especially after the Second World War (in 1945), the ideology of the welfare state managed to consolidate. It was also known as the state of providence , protective state or social state.

The government system intervenes through a network of institutions and organizations to help the most impoverished sectors to get out of this vulnerable condition, in addition to promoting equity among all citizens.

History of the welfare state

History of the welfare state

The origin of the welfare state occurred in the developed countries of Western Europe, especially in Germany . The figure of Otto Von Bismarck was highlighted, who proposed the modality of social insurance. Thus arose a popular type of policy that covered sickness and retirement insurance.

In 1929, after the Wall Street stock market crash (in the United States), the British economist John Keynes presented the concept of the welfare state as opposed to the liberal state that was in decline.

Keynes's economic theory held that government intervention could stabilize the economy , increasing employment and production levels, by increasing public spending (especially during periods of higher unemployment).

Characteristics of the welfare state

Characteristics of the welfare state

The welfare state developed under Keynesian influence (during the post-war era) , a period in which it went from social and economic security for some to social security for all citizens. Economic, social and cultural rights were considered " human rights " by the welfare state.

In its origins, it was a concept accepted by both left and right political ideology . Hence the complexity of its ideological development. The welfare states proposed by the more conservative societies tended to be limited in scope and ambition. However, they were paving the way for the State to increase its power.

There are four models of the welfare state that were implemented in Western Europe and that were differentiated by the level of social protection they promoted:

  • The continental.  It was a model in which the largest proportion of public spending went to pensions. The unions brought together a small number of members, however, their opinion had weight in the collective bargaining. It was applied in countries such as Germany, Austria, France , Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.
  • The Nordic.  It was the social democratic model with the greatest scope in social protection and with the most general level of access to social benefits, reaching high quality standards. It was applied in countries like Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Finland.
  • The Anglo-Saxon Liberal.  It was a model of limited action with fewer preventive measures and little relevance to social aid, with a subsidy system difficult to reach for the population . It was applied in the nations of the United Kingdom and in Ireland.
  • The Mediterranean.  It was a model of partial State intervention, which implied less public spending and a reduction in the coverage of pensions and social assistance. The unions had a large presence in the agreements and negotiations. It was applied in countries like Spain , Greece , Italy and Portugal.

The welfare state is based on four pillars that identify it, beyond the model or level of development achieved:

  • Access to health. It consists of a universal health system with easy access (sometimes it is free for those who cannot afford it).
  • Social security. It consists of contributory pensions for retirement, widowhood, orphanhood or disability situations.
  • Access to education. Like access to health, it was based on a universal nature and, furthermore, compulsory up to a certain level of education.
  • Social services. It consists of public services that provide assistance or help to citizens who, despite the actions of the State system, did not have access to health, sanitation or education .

Criticism of the welfare state

Criticism of the welfare state

Beginning in the 1970s, criticism of the welfare state increased. Some economists accused irregularities in the administration of the State, showing that it had too many fixed expenses and that the investments of the proceeds in public services were not reflected . They proposed that the State should only intervene in the minimum and indispensable. Gradually, the concept of the welfare state lost credibility and gave way to new neoliberal models .

The above content published at Collaborative Research Group is for informational and educational purposes only and has been developed by referring reliable sources and recommendations from technology experts. We do not have any contact with official entities nor do we intend to replace the information that they emit.


Cultural journalist with great interest in education and technological innovation in the classroom. The future passes through technology and it is already here. .

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