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April 27, 2018 / C H Thompson

Social Democratic Approach to Welfare

  • Social Democratic and New Right are the two main, and polarised, approaches to welfare
  • the social democratic approach originated in 1940s, based on principles of universalism with cradle to grave support
  • Social democrats such as Tawney (1931) argue the welfare state should adopt a ‘strategy of equality’ by redistributing wealth from the rich to the poor reducing social marginalization –through progressive taxation
  • such an approach delivers social cohesion through pensions, free healthcare, free education in order to create a less divided society and greater social integration by reducing the gap between the rich and the poor
  • argue welfare benefits should be payable to all – universal benefits – regardless of means – therefore no means testing in order to eliminate any stigma from claiming welfare


  • Wealth is redistributed to reduce social marginalisation and inequality – creating social stability
  • Redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor reduces poverty – creating social cohesion
  • Universal welfare payments have the advantage of having less or no stigma for the welfare recipient – (not so with means-test welfare payments) – so eliminating UNCLAIMED BENEFITS
  • Social democrats say it’s the government’s responsibility to do the above


  • Le Grand (1982) noted how the middle-classes benefitted more from the NHS and state education
  • Universal welfare means those social groups who don’t need the welfare still receive it which costs UK state and its taxpayers a lot of money
  • means tested welfare solves the problem of people abusing a generous welfare system
  • Tawney’s ‘strategy of equality’ creates a culture of dependency where people avoid looking for work

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