This section reviews some of the principles and values which are applied to social policy. It is difficult to give a clear account of this kind of issue without oversimplifying. None of the topics outlined here has a simple, unambiguous meaning; the concepts are often said to be 'essentially contested'.
Well being is a multi-faceted concept: it might refer to
Despite the ambiguity; some generalisations are possible: in each sense, poverty can be identified with a lack of well-being.
Individualists (and economists) define well-being as a property of 'individuals'. Social well-being is the interests of people in groups, which is not always the same as the people within it; there are often conflicts between the interests of individuals, families and communities. For example, it is generally considered to be in the interests of a nation to defend itself against attack, even where people within it suffer directly as a result. Individual and social welfare coincide because people are interdependent, social creatures, and people rely on social mechanisms (like social interaction, exchange, the division of labour, and education) for their personal development and well-being.
The idea of solidarity is referred to in Catholic social teaching as
"a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good, that is ... the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for each other." (1)
The basis of solidarity is mutual obligation. This is mainly expressed through reciprocity, or exchange. "Balanced reciprocity" occurs where people make a direct return for the things they receive. Often, though, reciprocity is "generalized"; there is no simple balance, but people give because they have received something in the past, or because some future reciprocity is possible. For example, parents give to children because their own parents gave to them; people support pensioners in the expectation that future generations will support them when they are pensioners. Generalized reciprocity is the norm within families, but it also occurs in mutual insurance.
Solidarity can be difficult to distinguish from 'altruism', but there is no reason to suppose that the motivation is unselfish. The central problem of solidarity is that it is often exclusive - confined to a special group.
Rights are rules: they can protect liberties or impose duties on other people. Moral rights are rights which are backed by a moral claim; legal rights are backed by a legal sanction.
Rights to welfare can be general (applying to everyone) or particular (applying only to specific people). The welfare states of continental Europe have mainly developed particular rights, related to membership of schemes and individual rights; the model followed by the UK attempted to extend rights to everyone, on the basis of citizenship.
Citizenship is the right to have rights. T H Marshall called citizenship as 'a status bestowed on those who are full members of a community.' (2) This idea, like solidarity, can be exclusive; it can be used to deny people rights, as well as to include them.
There are two main approaches to justice.
Justice begins with a presumption of equality; people should not be treated differently without a reason. There may, though, be many reasons. The criteria which have been proposed as the basis for distribution are complex: they have included need, desert, contribution to society, hereditary status, and many others.
Freedom has three elements. A person must be free from restraint, to do something. Freedom is, then:
Individualists argue for a model of freedom where people's freedom depends on their independence. Social welfare and state intervention are seen as undermining independence, and so freedom.
A social model of freedom begins from the view that freedom depends on interdependence. To be able to act, people have to have the power to choose in society. In this model, poverty negates freedom. Social welfare empowers people and enhances their freedom.
Democracy can refer to
Welfare provision has grown hand in hand with democracy. Drèze and Sen claim that there has never been a famine in a democracy; they argue that this is because political rights are fundamental to the maintenance of social and economic rights. (7)
The state is a general term for the institutions, agencies and procedures related to government. The idea of the 'welfare state' suggests that social policy is mainly a governmental responsibility, though in practice many of the functions of welfare states are undertaken by agencies beyond the government.
If governments are concerned about the welfare of their citizens (some are not), they will have some responsibility for social protection. This responsibility may be residual (confined to those who are unable to manage in other ways), but most states have found that it is impossible in practice to confine their actions only to support in the last resort (the model of the Poor Law). The reasons are partly administrative (strict selectivity is costly and inefficient), but mainly political: the pressures for expansion are irresistible.
The welfare states are institutional forms of social protection, where the state has come to set the terms on which social protection is delivered. Some writers have argued that states should confine themselves to a more limited range of activity, but if the same activities can legitimately be undertaken by non-state agencies it is difficult to see why they cease to be legitimate if a properly constituted government does them.
"Religion" is not the same thing as faith or belief, though faith may be required in some religions. Religion is a pattern of social organisation, and as such it can be distinguished from the teachings of prophets or scripture. As a pattern of organisation, religious practice has important implications for social policy.
The first dimension of religious influence is based in moral teaching. Many religions offer guides to morality, but there may be several strands of moral belief which co-exist.
There is no necessary inconsistency between these principles, but different balances imply different social policies.
A second dimension of religious teaching lies in the extent to which religion is integrated with political institutions. Some religions, and some countries, have made a firm distinction between the secular and religious spheres of their societies - there are examples in Catholic France or the predominantly Protestant USA. Others have established religions and churches, including the formally Christian United Kingdom, the Jewish state of Israel or the Islamic Republics of Iran or Pakistan. Some religious groups are radical, arguing for fundamental political and social change; others are conservative, arguing either for support for established regimes or at least acceptance of the status quo.
Third, there is religion as a means of forging common identity. Ethnicity - though commonly confused with 'race' - is a matter of culture and descent, and it is through culture and descent that religion is principally transmitted. It makes perfectly good sense, in those terms, to describe someone as ethnically Muslim, Jewish or Hindu; the distinction between Protestant and Catholic, Sunni and Shi'ite, is as often a matter of affiliation as of belief. Other religious movements aim deliberately to form a communal identity or sense of membership. Haynes distinguishes movements that are
Understanding the role of religious values in social policy often depends, then, on the interplay of these different dimensions - moral responsibility, political orientation and identity. So, for example, the primary issues in the USA lie in the tension between individualist and communitarian interpretations of religious principle; in Turkey they fall between secularism and political Islamism; in much of Africa and South East Asia, they are often based in ethnicity.
R Benn, S Peters, Social principles and the democratic state, Allen and Unwin 1959
E Smith, H Blocker (eds) Applied social and political philosophy, Prentice Hall 1993
G Drover, P Kearns, New approaches to welfare theory, Edward Elgar 1993
P Spicker, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, Policy Press 2006
T Fitzpatrick, Welfare theory, Palgrave Macmillan 2011