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The British welfare state and its discontents

Beech, Matt


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Dr Matt Beech
Reader in Politics and Director of the Centre for British Politics


James Connelly

Jack Hayward


At the heart of British politics is the welfare state. As a political idea it is contested, and as a framework of public services and entitlements it is complex. Friedrich Hayek commented upon the imprecision of the term ‘welfare state’: ‘Unlike socialism, the conception of the welfare state has no precise meaning. The phrase is sometimes used to describe any state that ‘concerns’ itself in any manner with problems other than those of the maintenance of law and order’ (Hayek, 2006, p. 90). But despite its ever-changing complexity one can outline its main components. As Rodney Lowe states, ‘Conventionally there are five ‘core’ services - social security, the National Health Service, housing, education and the personal social services; but to these may be added others, such as transport policy or tax allowances (fiscal welfare), which may legitimately be termed welfare policies because they involve a reallocation of scarce resources among individuals with the objective of increasing the sum of individual wellbeing’ (Lowe, 1990, p. 155). As a means to ameliorate the harshest effects of capitalism within an advanced democracy, the primacy and necessity of the British welfare state is virtually beyond doubt. This does not negate the ever-present public policy discussion about efficiency, welfare-dependency and issues with service-delivery but since its inception it has occupied a central position in British public life.


Beech, M. (2012). The British welfare state and its discontents. In J. Connelly, & J. Hayward (Eds.), The Withering of the Welfare State: Regression (86-100). London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Acceptance Date Feb 10, 2012
Publication Date Feb 10, 2012
Publisher Palgrave Macmillan
Pages 86-100
Book Title The Withering of the Welfare State: Regression
Chapter Number 6
ISBN 9781349340750; 9780230337145
Public URL