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The current state of the British welfare state is in flux, and according to Field (1999), only time will tell whether the reformation schemes and ideals are actually effective. Whether they are or not, they are nonetheless somewhat more realistic than the views held in the past.
When Stephen Berry wrote his article in 2004, little seems to have improved, particularly for the NHS. The author focuses on the health crises that have occurred in the health care field throughout the last decade. Indeed, such problems as bed shortages in hospitals, even for very serious accident victims, and low morale among hospital personnel exacerbate the financial problems experienced by the Service.
Like Field, Berry also addresses the high expectations and ideals held for the Welfare state during its inception in the 1940s. Mainly, the system was projected to provide not only cheap housing for the poor - based upon the Poor Law of the Victorian area, but also adequate healthcare for all citizens, as well as adequate pension schemes for comfortable retirement. As seen above, the increasing demand for these have resulted in increasing strain as well as increasing inadequacy in the provision of services.
Ironically, the healthcare area saw both the most radical innovations and the greatest problems. According to Berry (2004), there were a variety of methods by which policy holders could pay for their medical cover. After the War, the Labor Government instituted a "free on the point of demand" healthcare system. According to this scheme, healthcare was free for anybody who needed it, without asking any questions. It is not difficult to see how such as system could have devolved into the current series of crises, poor standards and increasing pressure for better service. Like the above-mentioned pension system, and increasing number of people are attempting to protect their own and their families' health by taking out private medical cover.
Berry (2004) projects that the next 50 years will see an increasing trend in this regard, despite attempts to reform the welfare state. Rather than relying upon a state that cannot provide its citizens with their basic needs, citizens are choosing the alternative of private provision. Berry holds that this system will eventually replace the welfare state.
The Contribution of Social Citizenship
According to Berry, the aim of the welfare state at its inception was to remove divisions from society. In this, it attempted to act in a socially responsible way by providing all persons who needed it with its services, regardless of barriers such as class, race, gender, or any other division. Instead, Berry's assertion that these divisions are now more prominent than before. Hence, the state failed in its social citizenship. Rather than eradicating the suffering brought about by a lack of resources, it has made this lack increasingly obvious by providing poor goods and services.
Berry cites the differences between the home owner and the public tenant, and between the private pension beneficiary and those receiving state pensions to underline this point. The welfare state is unable to provide its citizens with the same level of benefit as those with private medical, housing, and pension schemes. The same is true in the fields of education and work. Indeed, the first failure was the provision of full employment.
The British welfare state is a complicated issue. While its ideal adhered to the concepts of social citizenship, its current form does not. It has degenerated over decades of political and financial mismanagement. Remedies in the form suggested by Frank Field might be possible with some commitment, but it appears that citizens have long lost their trust in the welfare state and its capacity to adhere to social citizenship principles. Instead, the divisions between rich and poor grow, providing a grim projection for the future of the British welfare state.
Berry, Stephen. 2004. The Rise and Fall of the British Welfare State. Libertarian Alliance. http://www.la-articles.org.uk/ws.htm
Erickson, Lynda & Matthews, J. Scott. 2003. The Mass Politics of Social Citizenship. Canadian Political Science Association, June 1. http://www.cpsa-acsp.ca/paper-2003/erickson.pdf
Field, Frank. 1999. The Welfare State - Never Ending Reform. The Making of Modern Britain, BBC History. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/modern/field_03.shtml
Introduction to Social Policy. Social Policy in the UK. http://www2.rgu.ac.uk/publicpolicy/introduction/uk.htm
Mau, Steffen. Attitudinal cleavages and the welfare state. http://www.lse.edu/collections/EPIC/documents/ICMau.pdf
Wincott, Daniel. 2006. Social policy and social citizenship: Britain's welfare states. Publius, Jan, 1. http://www.accessmylibrary.com/coms2/summary_0286-12160803_ITM
Yergin, Daniel & Stanislaw, Joseph. 1998. The Brith of the British Welfare State. From Commanding Heights. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/commandingheights/shared/minitextlo/ess_britishwelfare.html[continue]
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