Brief Overview

The welfare state in Canada denotes state-fundned and state-administered social welfare policies that have been set forth to improve the health, education and income needs of Canadian citizens[1,2]. There are three types of activities that have been the primary focus of the welfare state:

1. Provision of minimum income

2. Provision for the reduction of economic insecurity resulting from such contingencies as sickness, old age and unemployment

3. Provision to all members of society a range of social services [3].

Formal Definition

A government that accepts responsibility to protect the health and well-being of its citizens through the provision of economic and social services [4,5].

Detailed Description

The history of the Canadian Welfare state has been described as the "history of the improvement of the conditions of life for the mass of Canadians" through the provision of "unemployment insurance, welfare, health insurance, workers' compensation, family and mothers' allowances, child welfare, public, non-profit and private housing" [1]. The movement towards the welfare state represented a movement from private to public welfare, followed by the expansion of both completed by the absorption of the private by the public [1]. The broad objectives of the welfare state were to provide poverty relief (keep citizens above a minimum standard of living), protect accustomed standards (put safeguards in place to prevent people from suddenly losing all assets) and to provide social services to maintain a healthy and educated population [6]. Modes of delivery in the Welfare State generally include services that can be grouped into items produced by the state (State produces a service and provides it free of charge to citizens), or funded by the state. Services funded by the state include payment to consume goods that are produced in the private sector (e.g. Health care in Canada), or to give individuals money to pay for their own purchases (e.g. tax relieves for private medical premiums) [6].

The first signs of a Welfare state in Canada was in the 1890's with the establishment of some social institutions - namely prisons and judicial systems, the distributions of state funds to charitable institutions, and the funding and enforcement of education for the young [1].

With the hopes of more fairly distributing wealth to improve living during the inter-war period and the great depression of the 30's, a number of financial programmes were established which we now recognize as constituting integral parts of the modern Canadian Welfare state [1]. These include federally funded relief, unemployment insurance, pension, grants-in-aid of private and public housing and family allowances.

More recently, was the establishment of national scheme of health insurance in the 1960's.

The welfare state has been critiqued as being a device by industrial capitalist societies through which states could exert their power, through politics and administration, in an effort to modify market forces [3,6]. By increasing the level of health, wealth and education of a population, the state has more resources to contribute to the economy; either directly through provision of labour, or indirectly through consumption of goods.

Recommended Reading

[1] Moscovitch A, Jennison T, Finlay P. (1983) The Welfare State in Canada. Wilfrid Laurier Press: Waterloo,On. [1]

[2] Banting K. (1987) The Welfare state and Canadian Federalism, 2ED. McGill-Queens Press. [2]

[3] Canadian Encyclopedia: Welfare State[3]

[4] Social Work and Social Policy in Canada: Welfare State []

[5] Statt DA. (1999). Concise Dictionary of Business Management. Routledge: New York, NY.

[6] Barr NA. (1992) Economic Theory and the Welfare State: A survey and Interpretation. Journal of Economic Literature; 30(2): 741-503 [4]

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