Attitudes towards the welfare state

General support for the principles of the welfare state remains.  Despite awareness of the huge challenges posed by factors such as changing demographics, attitudes towards the welfare state have changed very little in the past decade.  For example, many still believe the welfare state should pay for long-term care.  However, a significant proportion of people view the welfare state as a ‘club’ to which people belong, and believe that it is wrong for people to benefit from services which they have not helped pay for.  This attitude is likely to be exacerbated by the effects of immigration and the UK's ageing population which will place even greater demands on the welfare state in the future.

What are the implications?

  • Greater support for a system of benefits that are awarded to those who have earned them through the tax system.
  • An increased focus on self-reliance and personal responsibility.
  • Entitlement to public services such as free healthcare may be revoked or limited for patients whose illnesses are developed as a consequence of unhealthy behaviours.
  • Potential reduction in provision and gaps needing to be filled by VCOs or volunteers from local communities.
  • Increase in anti-immigration sentiment driven by the 'club' mentality around entitlement.
  • Reduction of provision may lead to higher levels of poverty and inequality, social fragmentation, marginalisation and unrest.
  • Visible signs of a strain on the welfare state, such as increasing awareness of the UK's ageing population, may lead to a perception that the overall quality of service provided by the welfare state is in decline prompting those who can afford it to seek services elsewhere.
  • Possible greater emphasis on prevention rather than cure, benefitting VCOs delivering preventative work.
  • If the ‘club’ mentality spreads to attitudes towards individual giving, it could mean less support for already marginalised groups of people.

Moving forward

Public service provision could decrease leaving a gap needing to be filled by local communities and VCOs.

  • How would you manage increased demand and need?
  • Do you have experience in mobilising volunteers to provide a reliable near-professional service?

The 'club' mentality around the welfare state could lead to changing perceptions of who should be allowed to receive its benefits.

  • What capacity do you have for shifting public perceptions of entitlement (eg for immigrants).
  • Were provision to immigrants to be reduced, do you have the resources to campaign on their behalf and meet the immediate need of providing services?

An increased focus on self-reliance and personal responsibility could affect entitlement to public services

  • Are you positioned to help people change their behaviour for the better by adopting healthier lifestyles?

Want to know more?

The Welfare State 2008

Published by: University of Wales and the European Social Fund

Date: 2008

Format: Website

What is it? A website giving people the opportunity to offer their thoughts on how the welfare state appears to them today.

How useful is this? This site gives an overview of the welfare state, children, health, social care, housing, poverty and social security, education, social justice and equality from the general public, academics, MPs and opinion formers. Some of the vews are varied and sometimes contentious, but are useful in giving an idea on attitudes towards the welfare state, its achievements and limitations

Other comments: The website provides links to PDF documents. This site is constantly evolving.

Understanding attitudes to poverty in the UK: getting the public’s attention

Published by: The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) 

Date: 2007

Format: PDF (226KB)

What is it? A report that looks at the public opinion on poverty and the welfare state within the UK from a variety of different perspectives, ways to engage with these attitudes and possibly challenge them. 

How useful is this? This report looks in depth at the public’s perception of relative poverty within the UK and opinions on entitlement within the welfare state from the point of view of either the “Big Tent” or “Club” mentality.  For many people, relative poverty within the UK is reasonably low on their priority list and the main focus of this report is finding an approach to changing these attitudes. Public attitudes to relative poverty are however fundamentally linked to opinions on the welfare state, therefore this report will be of interest to anyone exploring current and changing attitudes to the welfare state.  The executive summary especially provides a quick overview of the differing welfare state mentalities.

Last updated at 16:43 Wed 02/Feb/11.


How will this affect your organisation? Have you considered it during your strategic planning? Can you share any interesting relevant links?

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