Three: Welfare: what for?


This chapter argues that the task of uncovering the range of beliefs among policy makers about the purpose of social policy in general, and the welfare state in particular, is important for making social policy work, because without clarity over guiding principles, the debate between different normative positions is obscured, and the risk of inadvertently developing contradictory policies is increased. It begins by considering whether searching for underlying normative principles in social policy makes sense. It argues that even if different conceptions of what is right and good are necessarily traded against each other and against other values and objectives in the messy business of practical politics, it is nevertheless worthwhile to analyse the theories of social justice that contribute to the overall mix of motivations. An example is given that examines the rhetoric and practice of the current government and finds evidence of a lack of coherence in values and conceptions of social justice. The next section offers a framework for analysing the different conceptions that may be in play. Another section argues that social scientists should tease out the implications in practice of adopting different normative positions and they should differentiate between those which help to resolve policy dilemmas and those which simply throw up new ones. Particular attention is given to one conception, the capability approach, which has a number of advantages over the others considered. The concluding section returns to the question of whether this is all idealistic nonsense, irrelevant to the real worlds of welfare and policy making.

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