Risk and the welfare state

Br J Sociol. 1999 Jun;50(2):177-94.


The British welfare state developed as a state-centred response to the problem of handling the risks encountered in a typical life-course. The influential work of Giddens and others implies that the traditional welfare state is under attack from two directions: a changing international politico-economic environment limits the freedom of national governments to pursue independent policies involving relatively high taxation to finance social spending. At the same time, changes in the experience of risk and declining confidence in the expertise of welfare state planners and professionals undermine support for state-centred solutions. This approach fails to acknowledge that available non-state services are often inadequate to meet many everyday life risks and that the authority of private sector advisers, insurers and professionals is also increasingly open to question. This article discusses whether people reject welfare state solutions to problems of risk in the context of research on the perceptions and behaviour of people buying or selling their homes, considering provision for long-term care needs and defrauding social security carried out by the ESRC's Economic Beliefs and Behaviour programme. Individual responses endorse the continued provision of state welfare in order to meet unprovided risks alongside disenchantment with the record of both state and private professionals and planners and awareness that state retrenchment requires greater individual responsibility for meeting one's own needs. The theory of risk society requires development to recognize that citizens are not necessarily alienated from state welfare.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attitude to Health*
  • Fraud
  • Housing / economics
  • Humans
  • Long-Term Care / economics
  • Private Sector
  • Risk
  • Social Change
  • Social Welfare* / trends
  • Socialism* / trends
  • United Kingdom