Social Welfare

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Social Welfare is an encompassing and imprecise term, but most often it is defined in terms of “organized activities,” or another element that suggests policy and programs created to respond to social problems and improve the well being of those at risk. In this paper I will discuss the history of social welfare policies and its influence on families.

The advance of the welfare state reflected period-specific needs and was heavily influenced by changes in the national economy. Social welfare policy of the Colonial Period was replicated from the Elizabethan Poor Law that aimed to assist migrants in their struggle to fulfill the expectations of the early stages of industrialization. Its principles were designed to accommodate the necessities of transforming the economy and to negotiate between industrial interests and the landed gentry. They also intended to differentiate between social insurance and social benefits – the deserving and undeserving poor. The means of relief were different for the deserving and undeserving poor. The deserving poor, like the physically disabled, widows, and elderly would receive outdoor relief through cash payments. Veterans were treated with special care: the requirements of local settlements didn’t apply to them and colonies took the responsibly for the provisions of the relief. The undeserving poor received indoor relief through the poorhouses which provided punishment and hard labor to discourage people from denying work. The weak work ethic, as opposed to the economy, was assumed to be at the root of all the problems of the poor. The organized charities were few and their recourses were small. The relief programs were unavailable to blacks, even when they became free men.

A major push for change, the Reform Era, occurred around the Civil War. The most important development in federal welfare was the Civil War Pension system. Social welfare system was heavily dominated by voluntary and charity organizations, such as the Settlement House, which were ran by middle-class women. The scientific charity reform movement emerged and concentrated on counseling the poor in order to improve their social functioning through social casework. The significant point of the early reform period was abolitionism. Despite active developments and emerging movements, no one wanted to take responsibility for the black population, and charities mistakenly attended to the problems of blacks like those of immigrants. Immigrants, also known as the “stranger”, were not welcomed because people felt that they would be responsible for them.

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