The Welfare State

Lord Beveridge
Lord Beveridge

Based on proposals by Lord Beveridge, the UK's Welfare State was founded after World War Two with the aim to provide a comprehensive system of social insurance from 'cradle to grave'. With its founding principles of universal provision and flat-rate contributions it was held up as a model for social justice.

Today there are five main parts to the UK's Welfare State:

  • social security
  • the National Health Service (NHS)
  • comprehensive education
  • social housing
  • personal social services and services for children

Social security

A range of benefits are available to support people in need. This includes maternity grants, Child Benefit, Universal Credit, and the State Pension.

In 2014/15 the UK government allocated £220 billion to social security. However, access to benefits is most often means-tested and most benefit payment levels are very low.

The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government has made substantial changes to benefit entitlement, tightening up and capping benefits for many groups.

In Scotland, the Scottish government has tried to reduce the impact of some of these benefit changes, eg by providing additional funding to those adversely affected by the loss of the 'spare room subsidy' (nicknamed the 'bedroom tax').

National Health Service

Established as free, comprehensive, universal, high quality and allowing choice, the NHS has largely kept to its original aims. Costing £140 billion in 2014/15, studies show that health care in the UK is among the best in the world. However there are problems with staff shortages, waiting times and access to some types of drugs.

As a devolved power, health care decisions for Scotland are made in the Scottish Parliament. This has resulted in increasingly different approaches to health between Scotland and the rest of the UK. For example, the Scottish government abolished prescription charges for everyone, while in England many people have to pay for prescriptions.

Comprehensive education

State education services run from nursery through primary and secondary school and onto further and higher education. In the main, educational standards are very good. However, there are many criticisms including poor quality school buildings and shortages of staff and equipment.

Education is a devolved power so there are significant differences in education policy north and south of the border. There are no tuition fees for university students from Scotland studying in Scotland but there are elsewhere in the UK.

Personal social services and services for children

Services in this area include care services to the elderly in their own homes. Services for children include fostering and adoption services. Personal Social Services amounted to £31 billion in 2014/15.