Welfare state is a term that was apparently first used in the English language in 1941 in a book written by William Temple, Archbishop of York, England.
Welfare state is a term that was apparently first used in the English language in 1941 in a book written by William Temple, Archbishop of York, England. For many years after, postwar British society was frequently characterized (often pejoratively) as a "welfare state," but by the 1960s the term commonly denoted an industrial capitalist society in which state power was "deliberately used (through politics and administration) in an effort to modify the play of market forces."
For Asa Briggs, the author of this definition in an article appearing in The Welfare State (1967), there are 3 types of welfare state activities: provision of minimum income, provision for the reduction of economic insecurity resulting from such "contingencies" as sickness, old age and unemployment, and provision to all members of society of a range of social services. Under this definition, Canada became a welfare state after the passage of the social welfare reforms of the 1960s (see Social Security).
Richard Titmuss, one of the most influential writers on the welfare state, noted in Essays on the Welfare State (1959) that the social welfare system may be larger than the welfare state, a distinction of particular importance in Canada, where the social services component of the welfare state is less well developed. In addition to occupational welfare, there is a range of services provided by para-public, trade union, church, and nonprofit institutions. These are often funded by a combination of state and private sources.
Social Welfare and Social Philosophy
To some writers, the expansion of the welfare state is a central political focus of Social democracy because of the contribution of welfare state policies and programs to the reduction of inequality, the expansion of freedom, the promotion of fellowship and democracy, and the expression of humanitarianism. In Canada such a view of the welfare state appeared in the League for Social Reconstruction's Social Planning for Canada (1935) and in the reports of social reformers, such as Leonard Marsh's classic, Report on Social Security for Canada (1943), written for the wartime Advisory Committee on Reconstruction. Politically, this view has been expressed in the platforms of the New Democratic Party and its predecessor, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, and practised most notably by the postwar CCF government in Saskatchewan.
In the contemporary period, social democratic ideas on social welfare continue to find expression in the briefs produced by the Canadian Labour Congress, Canada's largest trade union federation, which since 1961 has been allied with the NDP; in the work of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, which is closely allied to both; and in the pages of Canadian Forum magazine. A popular form of these ideas can be found in the books of investigative journalist Linda McQuaig such as The Wealthy Banker's Wife.
It is the modern liberal, and not the social democratic, conception of the role of the Canadian state in the provision of social welfare that has been dominant. In 20th-century liberalism, as practised in Canada and elsewhere, the responsibility for well-being rests with either the individual or the family, or with both. Simultaneously, there is a clear acceptance that capitalist economies are not self-regulating but require significant levels of state intervention to achieve stability. In relation to Briggs's definition, there is an emphasis in liberalism on the first 2 of the 3 welfare state activities: minimum income and social insurance.
The necessity to develop a more cautious and residual social welfare state has been the theme of a number of major statements and reports by British writers J.M. Keynes and William Beveridge, and of the Canadian Report of the Royal Commission on Dominion-Provincial Relations (1940), the postwar White Paper on Employment and Income (1945) and the more recent federal Working Paper on Social Security in Canada (1973). It is an approach expressed in Mackenzie King's Industry and Humanity (1918), Harry Cassidy's Social Security and Reconstruction in Canada (1943), and also in Tom Kent's Social Policy for Canada (1962), which presaged the period of high social reform from 1963 to 1968. In the contemporary period, these ideas continue to find expression in the work of the Institute for Research on Public Policy and its magazine, Policy Options, edited by Tom Kent.
The modern conservative conception of the welfare state is guided by the principles of 19th-century liberalism, ie, less government equals more liberty, from which follows the defence of individual pursuit of self-interest and the unleashing of competitive forces operating through private markets (see Conservatism). The reduction of inequality, often held to be a goal if not a result of the welfare state, is considered antithetical to the pursuit of freedom and to material progress.
Consequently the modern welfare state is criticized from the conservative perspective. In particular, it is often argued that social expenditures have become too heavy a burden for the modern state and that state expenditures on social programs divert resources from private markets, thus hampering economic growth. According to the conservative conception, the welfare state has discouraged people from seeking work and has created a large, centralized, uncontrolled and unproductive bureaucracy. Proponents of this view argue that the welfare state must be cut down and streamlined, and that many of its welfare activities should be turned over to charity and to private corporations. In reference to Briggs' definition of the welfare state, conservatives support only the minimum income activities of the contemporary welfare state.
This view of the welfare state is currently supported in Canada by many members of the Conservative Party and by the Reform Party. The idea of the conservative welfare state had its clearest expression in Charlotte Whitton's The Dawn of Ampler Life (1943) commissioned by John Bracken, then Conservative Party leader, to criticize the social democratic views incorporated in Marsh's Report on Social Security for Canada; it also appeared in the west in the writings of former Alberta Premier E.C. Manning; and, in Québec, in the publications of the Semaines Sociales du Canada. In the contemporary period, this view is prevalent in the books and briefs produced by business-oriented research and lobby organizations such as the Fraser Institute and the C.D. Howe Institute, and the Business Council on National Issues, a lobby organization representing Canada's largest companies. Social Canada in the Millennium by economist Tom Courchene, published by the C.D. Howe Institute, is representative.
The re-examination of contemporary capitalist societies begun in the 1960s has produced a Marxist interpretation of the welfare state. In this view, in societies such as Canada, which are dominated by private markets, it is the exploitation of labour that supports the ever increasing growth of capital in the hands of private employers. In this context, a major role of the modern state is the provision of an appropriately trained, educated, housed and disciplined labour force available to employers when and where necessary. To accomplish this, the welfare state becomes involved in the regulation of women, children and the family through laws affecting marriage, divorce, contraception, separation, adoption, and child support since the family is the institution directly concerned with the preparation of present and future generations of workers and in provisions for employment, education, housing, and public and private health.
These ideas found expression in Canada in the past in the publications of the Communist Party of Canada. They continue to find expression in works by university-based authors and in the pages of magazines such as This Magazine and Canadian Dimension. See, for example, Dickinson and Russell, eds, Family, Economy and State (1986).
Development of a Welfare State in Canada
Social welfare in Canada has passed through roughly 4 phases of development that correspond to 4 phases of the country's economic, political and domestic development.
The Interventionist Phase: 1941-1974
This phase marks the arrival of what is conventionally called the welfare state. By the beginning of WWII, the economic and political lessons of the Depression had been well learned. Canadians increasingly accepted the expanded role of the state in economic and social life and expected this to continue after the war. In order to facilitate Canadian involvement in the war, the federal government instituted a wide range of measures including the construction of housing, controls on rents, prices, wages and materials, the regulation of industrial relations, veterans pensions, land settlement, rehabilitation and education, day nurseries and the recruitment of women into the paid work force in large numbers.
Wartime studies which provided the promise of postwar employment and economic security such as the British Beveridge report released in December 1942, and the Canadian report on social security prepared by Leonard Marsh and released in March 1943, were widely distributed and of considerable influence. The Liberal government largely ignored these and other wartime reports such as those by Heagerty on health and hospital insurance and the Curtis report on housing (also written by Marsh).
Instead King settled on a political compromise, which at first consisted of the establishment of family allowances in l944, in order to undercut the surge in electoral support for the CCF and the pressure from the trade unions for an increase in wages, particularly for poorly paid workers.
After re-election in 1945, the postwar Liberal government moved to dismantle much of the apparatus of state intervention constructed during the war. The White Paper on Employment, which appeared the same year, expressed the government's belief in the approach to economic management which followed from the work of the economist J.M. Keynes. The economy would be managed to produce full employment by providing assistance to private enterprise rather than by engaging directly in economic activity or by providing further social welfare measures. Nonetheless, at the Dominion-Provincial Conference that year, the King government presented the Green Book proposals which included social assistance and hospital insurance measures in order to gain concessions from the provinces on income and corporation taxes. The provinces did not agree, and the proposals were not subsequently revived until more than 10 years later.
Pressures for social reform continued and, under the postwar government of Louis St. Laurent, public housing, federal hospital grants and assistance programs for disabled and blind persons were initiated. A trade union campaign for changes in pensions led to the establishment of universal old-age pensions for those over 70 and means-tested old-age security for those between 65 and 70 in 1951-52. For the first time, cash benefits were extended to aboriginal people. An amendment to the Indian Act in 1951 extended the application of provincial social welfare legislation to native people. Lastly, the first permanent program for the funding of social assistance, the Unemployment Assistance Act, was put into place in 1956 after pressures from the private charities and the provinces, which could no longer support the cost of relief.
In 1957, the Liberal government was defeated in favour of the Progressive Conservatives under John Diefenbaker. During the period of Conservative Party government, permanent programs for the funding of hospitalization, higher education and vocational rehabilitation were introduced or extended.
The Liberal Party was returned as a reform-oriented minority government under L.B. Pearson in 1963 on a cyclical economic upsurge. Influenced by the American "war on poverty," by the necessity to maintain the political support of the newly formed New Democratic Party, and by provincial reform initiatives, Pearson's Liberal government presided over the introduction of 3 major pieces of social legislation which constituted the last building blocks of the Canadian welfare state: The Canada Pension Plan, which established a national compulsory contributory pension plan; the Canada Assistance Plan, which consolidated the Unemployment Assistance Act together with legislation providing social assistance to persons physically disabled, and made federal funding available for assistance to single parents and for a range of social services including day care; and Medicare, which established a national system of personal health insurance.
To these were added the Guaranteed Income Supplement, and the gradual reduction over the subsequent 5 years of the age of receipt of the universal pension to the age of 65, an increase in post-secondary education funding, and the consolidation of hospital, medicare and post-secondary education funding in the Established Programs Financing Act (see Intergovernmental Finance).
The National Housing Act was also amended in 1964 to provide loans on favourable terms to provincial housing corporations, clearing the way for more public housing. In the same year, by the simple expedient of a Treasury Board minute, native relief was transformed into a parallel system of social assistance based on provincial legislation but with lower rates. The point system was introduced into the Immigration Act during the 1960s, paving the way for a substantial increase in immigration, particularly from Asia and the Caribbean. This period of high social reform ended with several further significant social reforms, in the legislation controlling divorce (see Marriage and Divorce), abortion and contraceptives (see Birth Control), all of which became more widely available and had an important impact on women, the family and on Canadian social life in general.
In 1968, the Liberal Party, now led by P.E. Trudeau, was re-elected with a majority government. The expansion of the coverage and benefits of Unemployment Insurance to cover most workers followed in 1971. New provisions included seasonal workers and maternity leave benefits for the first time. After re-election of a minority Liberal government (1972-74), the reorganization of Income Tax, the expansion of the National Housing Act to cover co-operative and nonprofit assistance, and the first significant increase in Family Allowance since 1945, were accomplished.
The Social Security Review, launched in 1973 by the release of the Orange Paper on Social Security reform, was intended to lead to joint federal-provincial expansion of public social services and assistance for the working poor. The Review was stalled by an inability for agreement and overtaken by economic decline. The only further reform to appear was the child tax credit (in 1978), an innovation in that for the first time the tax system was used to provide a social benefit, although the funds for it came from an equivalent reduction in the value of the Family Allowance.
The Fourth Phase: Erosion and the Future of Welfare, 1975-
In the 1970s, social expenditures began to increase as a result of the expansion of the range and number of social programs. Increased funding made it possible to improve income security, particularly for the elderly as a result of the Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement, persons with disabilities, single parents under federally cost-shared provincial social assistance, and for the unemployed under unemployment insurance and social assistance. Parents received a larger degree of income support for their children under the Family Allowance. Social services, particularly child welfare and child care, improved in quantity and quality as a result of the Canada Assistance Plan funding. Post-secondary education was expanded to cover a wider section of the population and personal health care became widely available for the first time.
As unemployment grew in the 1970s, programs such as unemployment insurance and social assistance automatically expanded, pumping more income into the hands of people who were unable temporarily to provide for themselves. The impact of these latter increases on public expenditures were particularly evident from the mid-1970s, when the economy entered a period of decline after 10 years of growth.
In the 1970s and early 1980s, rising inflation and the growing demands of newly unionized public sector employees increased demands on public expenditures as well. These conditions ushered in a new conservative political approach in which previous Keynesian verities were turned upside down. Decreasing government expenditures, particularly for social programs, were held to be the way to return economic prosperity. The resultant unemployment was intended to reduce pressures for wage increases, to moderate inflation and to provide a stimulus to private economic development. Although inflation did moderate, relatively high unemployment has meant continuing demands on social programs expenditures.
Many of the methods begun in the early 1980s to control social expenditures have been used by both federal and provincial governments since that time. These methods have included changing eligibility and benefits, particularly under unemployment insurance and social assistance; "privatizing" provincial social programs by contracting out responsibility for social services (particularly those relating to children and the aged); provincial attempts to raise revenues through medicare premiums and user fees; decreasing social-program budgets relatively if not absolutely; imposing an eroding level of assistance benefit; and termination of some social programs - for example, the federal Family Allowance. The passage of the Canada Health Act in l984 effectively ended the process by which physicians in some provinces had been opting out of medicare in order to charge higher fees.
The election of a new Conservative government under Brian Mulroney in 1984 brought in a repudiation of the postwar commitment to full employment and to the role of government in the maintenance of social well-being. Shortly after election, the new government announced its commitments to the reduction of inflation and to the size of government, to the size of the budgetary deficit and accumulated debt, and to an increase in "private initiative." The new government received or initiated several reviews of social policy: the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Economic Development, The Forget Commission on unemployment insurance, the Neilson Task Force Report on the Canada Assistance Plan, and a House of Commons Special Committee on Child Care.
Between 1984 and 1993, federal Conservative governments introduced a range of measures to reduce expenditures on social programs including gradually reducing old-age security benefits at middle income levels and above; reducing and eventually eliminating the family allowances; reducing the range of workers covered by and the benefits available under unemployment insurance; and terminating cost sharing under the Canada Assistance Plan in 3 provinces in 1990.
The election of the federal Liberals under Jean Chrétien brought in a government which was expected to redress the balance between the economic and the social. After taking office, the new federal government announced a social security review. A discussion paper, Improving Social Security in Canada was released in October 1994, providing recommendations in 4 different areas: employment services, unemployment insurance, student loans and the Canada Assistance Plan. The 1995 budget announced the termination of the Canada Assistance Plan in 1996 and significant reductions in federal funding for social assistance, post-secondary education and health care. In April 1996 the Canada Health and Social Transfer (CHST) replaced the Canada Assistance Plan. Between 1994 and 1998 the government cut $6.3 billion in health and social program transfers under the CHST.
Since 1975, as a result of these changes social expenditures have continued to increase but social welfare has been eroded. One indication is in the growing number of soup kitchens and food banks which appeared in the 1980s all across Canada and increased in the 1990s. Another is in the growing numbers of the homeless. Social programs are still designed to deal with unemployment as a "contingency," an unusual occurrence, and not as the regular feature of economic and social life that it has become. This fact will no doubt continue to exert considerable pressure on future welfare state policy.
Modern feminism provides an assessment of the welfare state from the standpoint of women. While it encompasses a range of viewpoints, the idea that women constitute an oppressed group within Canadian society is basic to all. The work that women do, whether in the household or in the labour force, is undervalued. Women remain the primary care givers in the home for spouses, children and aging relatives, work which they perform without pay in a world where only paid work is valued. A high percentage of women, including women with small children, are now participating in the labour force, but they are concentrated into a small range of occupations that are often connected to their role as primary care giver. Women remain underpaid in relation to men and have less access to higher paid positions (see Women in the Labour Force).
From this point of view the welfare state, while providing many benefits, has also contributed to the oppression of women through legislation which is based on a traditional role for women and which reduces rather than expands their options. Family-related legislation does not obligate separated or divorced male parents to pay their fair share of child-related costs, leaving many women single parents dependent on social assistance and in poverty (see Family Law, Marriage and Divorce, Poverty). Inadequate public child care prevents many women from seeking paid work (see Day Care). Inadequate care alternatives for aging relatives places an increasing burden on women who provide care and do undertake paid work. In recent years, these ideas have been expressed by organizations such as the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, a federation of women's organizations, in magazines such as Herizons and Resources for Feminist Research and books such as Baines, Evans and Neysmith, eds, Women's Caring: Feminist Perspectives on Social Welfare (1991).
The Early Period: 1840-1890
In the early period of capitalist development, the activities of the state initiated in response to poverty and disease were largely regulatory in nature. Social welfare, considered a matter that was primarily of local and private concern, consisted of the provision of relief, the care of the insane and of handicapped and neglected children (see Child Welfare), and the incarceration of lawbreakers. After Confederation, the provision of social welfare services continued to be irregular and piecemeal, depending in part on the philanthropic inclinations and concerns of the upper class - in particular of those upper-class women who viewed charitable activities as an extension of their maternal roles and as an acceptable undertaking in society.
Reform of this system was predicated on the notion that the family was the basis of economic security. The institutionalization of the family and the social reproduction of labour, which began with legislation to enforce alimony, to regulate matrimonial property and marriage, and to limit divorce and contraception, was expanded with limitations on hours of work for women and children. Compulsory education and public health regulations were developed primarily in response to the spread of disease and fears of social unrest. Provincial governments began to support charitable institutions with regular grants.
The Transitional Phase: 1891-1940
Although the primary concern of the Canadian state remained the promotion of profitable private economic development, particularly through support of "infrastructural" institutions, the state also came to be associated with the provision of a plentiful supply of appropriately skilled labour through the regulation of the relations of capital and labour, and the maintenance of the family. This was largely achieved by the use of state mechanisms to maintain stability in the economy and in the family, and to do both at the least cost and risk to employers. During the same period, charity workers and private charity organizations began to consolidate and to battle ideologically and, generally, unsuccessfully for control of social welfare.
The appearance of legislation compelling children to attend school and providing public authorities with the power to make decisions in relation to "neglected" children was part of a growing number of state interventions to regulate social welfare. Industrial relations legislation was also passed in the first decade of the 20th century, allowing the state to intervene in the relations between labour and capital.
The first piece of compulsory contributory social insurance legislation in Canada, the Workmen's Compensation Act, was passed in Ontario in 1914. During WWI, 2 important events speeded the development of an interventionist welfare state: demands for the support of injured soldiers and demands for the support of the families left behind. Both demands led to the establishment of a Dominion scheme of pensions and rehabilitation and, in Manitoba, to the first mothers' allowances legislation in 1916.
Several provinces followed with mothers' allowance legislation of their own, but it was restricted to providing minimal support to deserted and widowed women. By war's end, after the incorporation of many thousands of women workers into the wartime labour force, they were encouraged to step aside to provide employment for male heads of households.
The postwar era also ushered in the first (and brief) Dominion scheme to encourage the construction of housing, but it lasted only from 1919 to 1924. While there was considerable debate during the 1920s about whether to establish permanent unemployment, relief and pension schemes, the only result was the passage of the 1927 old-age pension legislation, and this was in part the result of the efforts of J.S. Woodsworth and a small group of Independent Labour members of Parliament. Under this legislation, the federal government shared the cost of provincially administered and means-tested pensions for destitute persons over the age of 70. It was a modest beginning. The legislation explicitly excluded native people from receiving pension payments.
It was the traumatic economic conditions of the Great Depression that forced a change in social philosophy and state intervention. In 1930, with hundreds of thousands of Canadians unemployed, the newly elected Conservative government under R.B. Bennett legislated Dominion Unemployment Relief, which provided the provinces with grants to assist in the provision of relief. Subsequently the government opened unemployment relief camps run by the Department of National Defense, often in isolated locales, in order to give work at minimal wages to the single unemployed and to keep them away from urban areas.
By 1935 the Conservative Party's stern resistance to social reform was softened in the face of an economic catastrophe, with estimates of unemployment at up to one-quarter of the work force. Continuing pressure from the trade unions, from relief camp workers, and from social reformers for jobs, better wages and unemployment insurance, and waning popularity, led Bennett to abandon reliance on the so-called natural "restorative" powers of capitalism in favour of advocacy of social reform in Bennett's New Deal, introduced to the public in a series of radio talks in 1935. Later that same year, the Dominion Housing Act become the first piece of permanent legislation for housing assistance.
Although the provinces objected to the New Deal's labour and social insurance reforms and the courts subsequently determined that the federal government did not have the power to pass such legislation, the necessity for social reform was reaffirmed in the Report of the Royal Commission on Dominion-Provincial Relations created by Mackenzie King's Liberal government to examine the constitutional and social questions posed by the Depression. The Report recommended that the federal government take responsibility for employment and the unemployed, and the provinces for social services and those people deemed to be unemployable, eg, single mothers, pensioners and disabled persons.
The federal Unemployment Insurance Act was passed in 1940, after agreement with the provinces and a change in the British North America Act to give the federal government the authority for unemployment insurance. The Tax Rental Agreement arrived at with the provinces after protracted negotiations early in wartime gave the federal government the right to collect income and corporate taxes for the duration of the war, a right it has retained to the present.
Carol Baines, Patricia Evans and Sheila Neysmith, Women's Caring: Feminist Perspectives on Social Welfare (1991)
Tom Courchene, Social Canada in the Millenium (1995)
James Dickinson and Bob Russell, Family, Economy and State: the Social Reproduction Process Under Capitalism (1986)
Allan Moscovitch and Jim Albert eds, The Benevolent State: The Growth of Welfare in Canada (1987)
Linda McQuaig, The Wealthy Banker's Wife (1993)