Is further welfare state retrenchment likely in the UK?

Discuss the politics of the NHS and at least one other area of social policy

Essay, 2007
9 Pages, Grade: 1,7





The welfare state is an important part of the British state politics since its establishment and development. It is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the modern society processes like aging of population, rise of unemployment, declining financial resources and their pressure over the welfare system structure. The rapid economic and demographic changes after the Second World War are having a serious effect on the social policy system of Britain. In recent years there has been an increasing interest among social scientists in the examining and restructuring the welfare state system, particularly after the conservative welfare state reforms of the 80’s. The issue of welfare retrenchment has been a controversial and much disputed subject within the field of social policy. This paper will focus on the question if further welfare state retrenchment is likely in the UK, critically examining the politics of the National Health Service and the Politics concerning Disabled People.

The first section of this paper will concentrate on the status of the welfare system in the state and the main sources of influence for successful retrenchment policies. It will than go on to the particular policy field of the Health services in the UK and outline its specific position in the British welfare system. Finally, the essay will describe the special features in the Disabled Politics in Britain and discuss if further welfare retrenchment in this area is expectable.

After the Second World War the welfare state has been seen as one of the modern ways to reduce the inequalities that resulted from the industrialisation. However, in the 1970s the source of combating misbalances finds itself in a contradiction to the free market economy and the democracy. Although the welfare system is been considered as a solution for the industrial expansion inequalities, it creates problem at the same time, because it threatens the free market through state interventions. The welfare state seeks to impose regulation and to reduce inequality and poverty, which could result in promoting decommodification.[1]

Supporters of the Left as well as the Right ideology considered the welfare state as problematic solution of social problems, but both lack alternative approaches. As a result of this, the structure of the welfare state remains irreplaceable, although it is imperfect.[2]

Most scholars agree that welfare states and regimes differ from country to county and that they are influenced by external factors such as economy, government, society and recently the globalisation.[3] Esping-Anderson offers an important classification of welfare systems, dividing them into “Liberal”, “Conservative” or “Corporatist” and “Social-democratic” types, according to the arrangements between the main actors. The “Liberal” welfare system grants the least social care in order to promote faster commodification among the population, while the “Social-democratic” model supports universal social benefits and seeks to achieve greater equality. As a result of this, the retrenchment strategies in the three welfare systems will be dependent on different factors.[4]

One problem with this approach is that it fails to take the possible variation in the categories into account. Esping-Anderson offers three major factors for retrenchment or expansion of the welfare state. Firstly, the nature of class mobilisation, secondly the class-political coalition structures and finally the historical legacy of regimes institutionalization.[5] These factors, however, lack a precise focus in detailed examining of the influences over the welfare state. A useful extension of Esping-Anderson’s classification factors could be achieved by more detailed analysis of the welfare state retrenchment possibilities according to structural and programmatic strategies.

The British welfare state system can be categorised as a “Liberal” model. This could be supported by the comparatively low public expenditure and the rise of means-tested programs in Britain. There is a widespread social stigma over the poor or the social dependent in the society and the gaining of entitlement is artificially complicated and only for a relatively short period of time. Consequently, the aim of the British welfare state is to promote less decommodification.


[1] Esping-Anderson, G.: The Three Political Economies of the Welfare State; in: The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1990), p.13;21.

[2] Claus Offe, “Some Contradictions of the Modern Welfare State,” in Contradictions of the Welfare State (London: Hutchinson, 1984), p.147 ff, p.157.

[3] Clarke, J., “Standing on Shaky Ground: The Problem of Welfare States,” in: Changing Welfare, Changing State. New Directions in Social Policy (SAGE Publications, 2004), p.12.; Esping-Anderson, G., “The Three Political Economies of the Welfare State,” p. 26.

[4] Esping -Anderson, G., “The Three Political Economies of the Welfare State,” p. 26ff.

[5] Esping-Anderson, G., “The Three Political Economies of the Welfare State,” p. 29.

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Is further welfare state retrenchment likely in the UK?
Discuss the politics of the NHS and at least one other area of social policy
University of Manchester
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MA Desislava Dimova (Author), 2007, Is further welfare state retrenchment likely in the UK?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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