Before one can discuss the advantages or the disadvantages of government welfare system it would be prudent and necessary to understand the purpose of having welfare in the first place. One could argue that before high technology service economies and industrialization welfare was not needed in large part. Agrarian societies had the family farm, generation after generation. The result was that families and extended families took care of each other.
With the advent of industrialization, there was a movement off the farm, into the cities. People tended to be more disconnected from the family farm. In fact, it was not until the 1930’s in America, in response to the Great Depression that the welfare system was even started. The original purpose of the welfare system in America, and most likely in other industrialized countries is to provide temporary assistance to disadvantaged citizens. This disadvantage could be from unemployment, underemployment, hardship, disability, and lack of skills or a number of other factors.[i] We will not discuss the means testing, or how someone gets on the system, or how the benefits are received. We will only discuss the advantages and disadvantages from a societal perspective.
According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, physiological is the fundamental base all humans need. If the requirements of human survival are not met then it will fail. These basic requirements are clothing, shelter, and food. It could include healthcare. This is survival mode and is needed for the success of humanity.
So the first advantage is that it meets the basic of human hierarchy. Welfare has the advantage of making sure that children are properly taken care of, even if the parents are not able to, by circumstance or volition.
By circumstance we mean parents becoming unemployed, sick, disabled or underemployed. By volition, we mean parents whose life choices created a negative situation of unemployment or disability due drug or alcohol abuse. The basic principle is that the children should not suffer due to the parent’s situation. An advanced society will not allow that.
Welfare has the advantage of necessary access to needed medical healthcare. With unemployment or underemployment comes the inability to pay for health insurance or even health care. Welfare has the advantage of resolving this to some degree.
Although it is promoted that welfare reduces crime rates due to the fact that basic physiological needs are being met, there is no concrete correlation between reduced crime rates and citizens receiving welfare. So we will not consider it an advantage.
It should be noted that welfare has to be paid for by governments. It should also be understood that wealth in a nation is never created by governments. Governments are consumers and confiscators of wealth. Since welfare systems are government run programs welfare has to be supported by the countries own citizens through tax revenue.
Welfare was meant to be a temporary help up and out. However, for most welfare systems, they have become a generational dependent activity. Most welfare programs do not count as successful how many families they helped out of the system, but rather how many they can keep on the system somewhat indefinitely. This puts a huge tax burden on the rest of the citizens supporting it.
Welfare also has the built in disadvantage of keeping traditional (or even same sex) marriage to be part of the societal structure. The reason for this is because receiving benefits is dependent on a means test. If two people become married, both incomes are taken into consideration. Getting married may put in jeopardy the ability to get the necessary aid. This encourages a breakdown of the family unit, but not necessarily a limit on children being born. It only exasperates the problem.
Another disadvantage is fraud. Once people realize that they can access the largess of a country through welfare, then there are those who will abuse it. In addition to this, welfare was meant to be for the benefit of its own citizens. When a country has a large influx of undocumented aliens, also known as illegal immigrants, they may abuse the system in accessing these benefits. A benevolent society will even wish to take care of the needs of those illegally here. This is the case in America and will very much be the case in Europe with refugees.
The last disadvantage is that people will become dependent on it. Humans need to have valuable work for many reasons. Physical and mental well-being, as well as purpose in life, is three reasons for valuable work. Welfare received over long periods of time in one’s life or even passed intergenerational strips humans of these basic needs and dignity.
So arguments on both sides of the welfare debate are both valid. Without welfare, modern society will be very cruel. With easy access and long-term dependence, it puts a strain on the wealth and sustainability of a nation. Governments need to have serious policies in adjusting to minimizing the disadvantages and maximizing the advantages.