“The most important social welfare program in America is a job.” —Newt Gingrich
Before we look at whether or not and to what extent the welfare state has indeed taken over the functions of the family it is necessary to define what these functions were before the establishment of the welfare state and what they are today.
When we study families in Britain we can group them into three historical periods, that of pre-industrial, industrial and modern families. These again subdivide into nuclear and extended families.
It was believed that in pre–industrial Britain the extended family was the norm but it has since been shown that in fact the nuclear family was predominant. In many cases though “it was usual for the eldest and inheriting son and his family to remain in his parents’ home”-(Dr M.O’Donnel). This family provided these functions as defined by Murdoch; sexual – the limiting of the number of partners, reproductive – establishing a line of descent for the purpose of passing on property, economic – the offspring giving financial support to the parents in their old age but also saving costs by helping out with chores on the land, educational – the family would pass it’s trade down the line of descent and lay the foundation for any formal education that the kin might possibly recieve.
In addition to these functions the pre-industrial family provided a basis for the offspring to make their way in the world. Today’s industrial family in times of need can rely on the welfare state, the pre-industrial family had to get help from next of kin and neighbours and in the industrial families of today there is no longer this kin and community influence on the family.
Though we have seen how the pre-industrial family had these functions, even in the industrial family of Victorian times the old depended on the kin for help and companionship. The welfare state was not set up until after the Second World War by the Labour government of the time. This industrial family was in general, as the pre-industrial one, a nuclear family. However the family was slowly drawing away from the community and concentrating on protecting its own interests.
Today’s modern family is much smaller than that of Victorian times. A “typical” modern nuclear-family consits of the parents and two children. This is still a nuclear family but at the present time in Britain there is very little interest in the community and a much greater interest in personal gain; even the nuclear family is becoming fragmented. The family’s function have been reduced also by the introduction of the welfare state.
The welfare state provides many services that were previously provided by the family and some that the family could never adequately provide these services are documented overleaf. The welfare state’s aim is to look after the citizens of the country, to keep them both physicaly and mentaly fit. This translates as the payment of cash benefits and the provision of social services. The cash sums are as follows:
- Unemployment Benefit
- Sickness Benefit
- Maternity Benfit
- Guardian’s Allowance
- Retirement Pensions
- Widows Benefits
- Industrial Injuries Benefits
- Death Benefits & others
These are only available if you are in certain situations and the possible beneficeries are means tested. The other services provided are:
- The National Health Service
- Child Care
- Welfare Centers
- Maternity Care
- Child Welfare
- Health Visitors
- Home Nursing
- Domestic Help
- Ambulance Service
- Youth Organisations
- Youth Employment Service
- Housing & others
With the family no longer primarily concerned with the maintanence of the physical well being of its members it is left to give the human and emotional support that the welfare state cannot provide, though it does attempt to with the provision of councilors and social workers. The family is still the primary source of socialisation and emotional management (an emotional outlet).
In conclusion the evidence points towards the re-evaluation of the functions of the family over the periods discussed. During the industrialisation of Britain the family has become more self centred and relies less on the community and leans more heavily on the welfare state in times of need. The family with certain functions reduced is increasing its others. It is the main source of socialisation and character building and it is still the only major institution for the upbringing of children.