The term "welfare state" has a variety of meanings. To some, it represents an ideal society, where the state provides care and benefits, including education, health care and support for the unemployed, to all citizens. To others, it represents an overweening "nanny state" and a burden on the taxpayer. Welfare exists in some form all over the developed world and can be defined as the provision of benefits to citizens by the state, religious organisations or charities.
Welfare Provision in the United Kingdom
In the UK, welfare is considered to be a universal, institutional right for all citizens. The Labor Party introduced the National Health Service after World War II. The thinking was that no society should make a lack of means a barrier to medical care. Education is free until the age of 18 and university education is funded by a series of loans from the state, which become repayable once the graduate's annual income reaches about £21,000 ($33,201).
Welfare in Sweden
The Swedish system has been described as "institutional-redistributive," as it seeks to bring about social equality. Sweden spends more on social protection than any other country in the 34-member Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Public funds are put toward health care, education, child care and pensions, among other social security systems. The aim of the Swedish welfare state is to provide a safety net for Swedes, but this comes at a high price in terms of taxation.
Welfare in Germany
Germany provides universal medical care and compensation for the unemployed, among other social benefits. However, such benefits are related to earnings in what is sometimes called a "social market." Those who have no employment history can find it difficult to access social security provision,and higher earners are also not covered. The welfare state in Germany is run on the principle that central government should be involved as little as possible, so most of the services are run by independent agencies. As is the case in many welfare states, there are concerns about Germany's long-term ability to fund this system unless reforms are implemented.
Welfare in the United States
In the U.S., "welfare" refers to the various forms of aid given the poor. One such key program is Social Security, instituted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s. This taxpayer-funded system provides money for retirees and insurance for the disabled and unemployed. Families whose income is below the poverty line ($21,954 in 2009) are eligible for welfare payments from the government. According to the Social Security Administration, in 2010, over £455 billion was paid out in welfare to retired workers, survivors of deceased workers and the disabled. Welfare in the U.S. is seen as a safety net for the poorest citizens, who would be unable to afford basic necessities without it.