Social Welfare Past and Present






Social Welfare


Social welfare is an expansive system proposed to maintain the well being of individuals within a society. This paper will explain the progression from the feudal system and church provisions for the poor before the Elizabethan Poor Law to the gradual assumption of the responsibility for the poor by the government. A responsibility assumed not out of humanity and concern for the poor, but as a process of standardizing the ways in which the poor were to be managed. The history of social welfare reflects differences in values as they relate to social responsibility in taking care of the needy. Our society has been influenced by values like Judeo-Christian humanitarianism and the economic doctrine of laissez faire. Our present social welfare structure is also influenced by these values.
Our English heritage has greatly affected social welfare today. Some of the standards set in England include: indoor relief; a national policy for the poor; the provision of serving the poor by placing them in institutions; and the categorization of the poor into two basic categorizes, the worthy poor and the able-bodied poor (unworthy poor). The Elizabethan Poor Law also set precedents which include: clear government responsibility for those in need; government authority to force people to work; government enforcement of family responsibility; responsibility for carrying out programs at the local level; and strict residence requirements.
In England during the late 1700’s there were other efforts that led to shaping the United States social welfare policies that address poverty. The Speenhamland Act of 1795 was one such effort. It “provided for the payment of minimum wages to workers and their families, with the government making up the difference if employers could not afford to pay all costs”. Even though it was not successful, this act set the principles of government subsidies for private employers (this was an approach promoted for in 1996 as an element of welfare reform).
Social welfare in Colonial America was nonexistent, because of this charity was heavily relied on since there was no government policy to provide for the poor. A carry over from England was the establishment of almshouses or workhouses provided by indoor relief. This fit in well with the Puritan work ethic of the colonists.
The next important period in the history of social welfare was the time between the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. It was during this time that a shift to outdoor relief occurred. Work relief programs and in-kind benefits now provided aid. Also during this time the voluntary sector rose and the emphasis was put on charitable institutions. It was in the large cities during the 19th century that various organizations were established to lessen the suffering of the poor. One of these organizations was the New York Society for the Prevention of Pauperism (1817), which used visitors to assess and respond to the needs of the poor. Another such organization was the Association for Improving the Condition of the poor (1843). This organization required an assessment of individuals’ needs so that relief agencies could be more effective. Also, Buffalo’s Charity Organization Society (COS) desired to organize charities to prevent duplication of services and to reduce dependency on charities.
In addition to COS’, private charities came about to address special problem areas. An example of this was the Orphan’s Home Movement, which started institutions for children with deceased parents. Other special institutions were established for those who were mentally ill, deaf, and blind. At the end of the 19th century, states developed centralized agencies to ensure a better quality of care for those in institutions. Dorothea Dix promoted the establishment of federal institutions for the mentally ill, however the responsibility was left to the states. The federal government did however provide assistance for selected groups such as veterans. Jane Addams, a social worker at Hull House in Chicago began the settlement house movement. It addressed the needs of the immigrants from southern Europe entering the country in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.
Greater federal involvement in social welfare services did not begin until the New Deal legislation. Due to the extensive effects of the Great Depression, the view of blaming the poor for their conditions was put aside. The Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps are two examples of government employment programs. These