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Sunday, January 1, 2012



9.1 Introduction

9.2 Welfare State

9.3 From Charity to Welfare: The English Experience

9.3.1 Elizabethan Poor Laws

9.3.2 Poverty and Charit y : Differing Perspectives

9.3.3 Relief to Services: Change to Welfare

9.4 Social Legislation for Social Control: Germany under Bismarck

9.5 From Benevolence to Community Centred Welfare: The Case of Japan

9.5.1 Taking care of the Urban Poor: Wealthy Merchants and Charity

9.5.2 Confucian Piety and Self-Help: The Ideas of Ninomiya Sontoku

9.5.3 Meiji Welfare Polices: Saving the Samurai or Charity begins at Home

9.5.4 Relief and the Poor: The Dangers of Dependence

9.5.5 Influence of Western Ideas on Japan

9.5.6 National Objectives and Welfare: Strengthening State Control

9.5.7 Private Charity: Emperor and Christian Groups

9.5.8 New Ideas about Relief: Public Responsibility of the State

9.5.9 The Ministry of Health and Welfare: Furthering the War Effort

9.6 Summary

9.7 Exercises


Unit 4 of Block 2 (Theories of State) informed you about a new type of state that had emerged in the wake of industrialization. This Unit goes into a discussion of one important feature and function of the modern state: welfare and social responsibilities. The Unit will argue that in the pre-modern time charity and welfare were tasks that were generally performed by the family, community or the religious establishment. In modern times, however, the state looks upon welfare as a part of its responsibility and handles it in an institutionalized manner.

This Unit will discuss the concept of welfare state and then take up three examples of welfare states - England, Germany and Japan. In all the three models, the policy makers faced the same dilemmas on the questions of charity and welfare. For instance, who should be the real recipients of relief and help from the state? Does relief genuinely help the poor or promote indolence and idleness among them? How to ensure that the benefits of relief reach only those who need it? And, how to ensure that it does not
create a group of parasites who would soon become a liability on the system? These 27

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questions came up for debate in the context of welfare in the three countries discussed. These questions are relevant even today. This Unit will give you some idea about how these unresolved questions were debated by the thinkers and philosophers and what were the type of welfare measure and institutions, evolved by the three modern state systems.


One of the defining characteristics of the modern state is seen in the responsibility it takes for the welfare of its citizens. The state regulates social and economic relations to ensure the well being of all its people. This change from a time when charity and relief provided by the family, community or Church to social welfare is seen as the process by which the modern Western European State has progressed and this history is inextricably linked with the creation of a modern sensibility. In the premodern period, it is argued, the individual could only appeal to the Church or religious groups, family or the community when faced with poverty or illness and the causes of poverty were often seen either in fate or in individual failure. Communities or individuals in distress could then appeal to the charity or benevolence of the rulers or that of their family or community. Industrialisation brought with it economic growth but also the growth of urban centres where an increasing class of people lived at subsistence levels. The modern state began to tackle the social problems that arose out of this through measures that grew in coverage both out of a strong sense of humanitarian concern as well as because of a fear of social unrest. This body of legislation developed the welfare state where not just the poor but all citizens were entitled to a variety of social benefits such as a minimum wage, access to public health systems and schemes were established for social insurance such as old age pensions, or unemployment benefits. The state moved from moral exhortation to providing assistance to help the disadvantaged and as it did so it took positive steps to reduce income disparities through taxation and special schemes to benefit those who were economically or socially disadvantaged.

How does this process take place? Is it a natural progression as societies modernise and develop? What underlies this humanitarian concern? Some historians would explain disinterested reform as serving class interests so that the ascendancy of a new class led people to think in terms of social legislation. Is there a convergence so that all societies slowly emulate the experience of the European states? The European experience has become the norm against which to measure the progress of all states but it can be argued that the history and traditions of a country can act as equally important influences on the shape and character of welfare policies and the philosophy that underlies them.

Contemporary debates about entitlements and welfare policies both in the United States and Western Europe as well as in India and other developing countries have been sharp and acrimonious criticising state assistance for removing incentives for work as well as for placing an intolerable burden on the state exchequer. Critics have also seen help to the disadvantaged as a form of ‘reverse discrimination”. These debates highlight the different approach that countries have followed and an examination of the history of social legislation will allow us to understand that there is not one ideal system to which all countries have to aspire to emulate. An examination of English and German social legislation shows the differing approaches and objectives that the two countries had so that even when we talk of the West it is important to bear in mind the diversity that this word often hides. The history of social legislation in Japan shows how a non-Western society that developed within the period of Western dominance was able to develop a welfare system that owed as much to the new doctrines and ideas coming from the
West as to its own historical traditions. By considering both Western and non-Western

countries it will be possible to see the complex strands that have contributed to shaping the nature of welfare in the modern world.


England was the first European country to come under the spell of industrialisation. As a consequence, it took the lead in modern institutions like democracy and a modern representative state system: England also had a long tradition of charity. These features placed England at the centre of any debate on welfare state. In this section we will look at the English experience of charity and welfare.

9.2.1 Elizabethan Poor Laws

The European experience has been heavily influenced by the experience of Britain which has had a long history of public assistance to the poor and private charity. The poor were in earlier times wards of the Church but by Elizabethan period in the sixteenth century laws were enacted to establish a national system of relief that provided legal and compulsory help to the poor. The Poor Laws were codified in 1597-1598 and re- enacted in 1601 and under these laws the parish became the basic unit of administration to manage relief work. A compulsory tax was imposed on each household and this money was used to provide relief to the aged, the infirm but not the ‘sturdy beggar’. The able-bodied poor were punished. Social reformers and social legislation was concerned with discouraging dependence on charity that would lead to idleness. They did this through forced work or punishments such as whipping. The principle that the poor laws were based on was ‘work for those that will labour, punishment for those that will not, and bread for those who cannot.”

In economic thought the idle poor also represented an intolerable drain on the wealth of the nation and consequently many schemes were devised to put them to work. Reformers wrote about workhouses and labour camps and the condition in the workhouses was designed to be worse than outside. Part of the concern about the drain of wealth was due to the expenditure on relief works which rose to astronomical heights from £665,000 in 1685 to £900,000 in 1701 and by 1711 it was over £2 million and that for a population of 6 million!

It was this background that put England far ahead of the other European states in its concern and policies for the poor. Many travellers were impressed and wrote glowingly of these polices. Benjamin Franklin came to England in 1766 and praised the way England looked after her poor but he also raised the question that was much debated in contemporary England, and which continues to evoke a debate even today. He wrote, “There is no country in the world where so many provisions are established for them[the poor]; hospitals, almshouses, a tax for the support of the poor…In short, you offered a premium for the encouragement of idleness, and you should not now wonder that it has had its effect in the increase of poverty.

Alexis de Tocqueville, a French scholar visited England in 1833 and wrote a Memoir on Pauperism (1835) where he wrote “with indescribable astonishment…[that] sixth of the inhabitants of this flourishing kingdom live at the expense of public charity”. He was astonished because he saw England as a developed, prosperous country, the very “Eden of modern civilisation” and noted that other European countries were poorer and the poor in England rich compared to the European poor but English poverty was
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of a different type. This poverty amidst plenty had nothing to do with subsistence but for the English “the lack of a multitude of things causes poverty”. This was, he wrote, also accompanied by a commitment to alleviate poverty for ‘society believes itself bound to come to the aid of those who lack them. These changes brought about a more reasoned and systematic form of social action to mitigate poverty. It transformed what was private charity oven out of a moral duty into a legal obligation. Like Franklin before him Tocqueville noted that the guarantee of the means of subsistence removes the incentive to work and will promote idleness. Tocqueville, as a result, came out openly in defence of private charity. Public charity, by marking the recipient as a pauper, he wrote, stigmatises the recipient as well as creates incentives for idleness. The poor had to write their names in poor rolls and Tocqueville found this to be, “a notarized manifestation of misery, of weakness, of misconduct on the part of the recipient.”

9.2.2 Poverty and Charity : Differing Perspectives

Economic development as well as social dislocation marked the capitalist transformation of the world between 1750-1850. In this situation ideas about relief and charity also began to change. The reform sentiment that gathered momentum during this period effected a range of social policies but perhaps the movement against slavery was the most dramatic of these. Electoral reforms allowed greater participation and in turn parliament was made more sensitive to popular opinion and became the vehicle for realising social legislation. The reforms of 1834 set up a Central Poor Commission to supervise the administration of poor relief that had become inefficient and corrupt. The able-bodied poor were kept out of relief system through the workhouse test since conditions in the workhouse were always harsher than outside. Yet these reforms did establish a system that carried social legislation further by regulating hours and conditions of work in factories and mines.

Concern for public health had become particularly necessary because of the cholera epidemics of 1831-3 and 1847-8 but the untiring efforts of Edwin Chadwick were equally important for a better organisation of urban life. An Act of 1848 established a central board of health on the lines of the Poor Law Commissioners that had the power to establish local boards. Other Acts enforced regulations governing education, prison conditions, and working conditions for children and women. The New Poor Laws gave rise to intense debates that centre around a distinction between the poor and the pauper. The laws it was argued was ‘pauperising the poor’. This was because the laws gave an allowance to the poor. The funds for this allowance were generated through extra rates levied on tax payers. It was argued that not only did this work as a disincentive to work but it drove wages down, led to a fall in productivity, and was a burden on those who paid the extra rates but did not benefit from it. Because of this burden these people were driven to swell the ranks of unemployed agricultural labour.

The question of who are the poor was central to much of the debates and proposals for social legislation. At the end of the eighteenth century Edmund Burke had objected to the phrase ‘labouring poor’ arguing that there were ‘labouring poor’ who worked for their subsistence and the ‘poor’ who were the sick, infirm, or those orphaned in their infancy or incapacitated by old age. The Church had given alms regardless of whether the recipient laboured or not as did the Elizabethan poor laws. It was John Malthus who introduced an idea of ambiguity. Malthus argued against the idea that an expanding industrial economy would produce sufficient wealth to provide for the ‘happiness and comfort of the lower orders of society’. Industrial growth would lead to a growth in population but agricultural production would not rise leading to a worsening of conditions for those struggling for subsistence. Any relief given to these paupers would increase their population and consequently worsen the situation as there would be a decrease in

food available for the entire poor population. The only way to break out of this vicious cycle was through the exercise of ‘moral restraint’.

It was this type of thinking that supported and sustained programmes of social amelioration and created a division among social reformers. It was this thinking and these debates that are reflected in Disraeli’s comment that in England now “Poverty is a crime” or in Thomas Carlyle’s statement that these laws put a ‘bounty on unthrift, idleness, bastardy and beer drinking.’ The debates however, also had a positive effect as they shifted concerns from poverty narrowly defined to larger issues of the obligations of state and society, of the causes of social inequality, the basis of law and obligation. Thinkers such as Karl Marx and Friedrich Engles argued that inequities in the system could only be changed through revolutionary change that would give the full value of his labour to the worker, others sought to return to the old community based systems that had disintegrated and some others sought to bring about legal restrictions that would regulate factory work, public health and mitigate the effects of early industrialisation.

As the general condition of the working class began to improve the stigma attached to poverty began to change and disappear. It was now narrowly focussed on the urban vagrant whom Henry Mayhew characterised as the ‘peculiar poor’ marked by a
‘distinctive moral physiognomy’. This differentiation of the poor was taken further by
Charles Booth who through careful household surveys, (published as Life and Labour of the People of London between 1889-1903 in 14 volumes) made a distinction between the very poor (paupers, street folk) and the comfortable working class. He drew a poverty line and laid the basis for providing social legislation to help this category of deserving poor and they benefited from subsequent legislation such as the Old Age Pensions Act of 1898 or the National Insurance Act of 1911.

9.3.3 Relief to Services: Change to Welfare

Poverty and its relief were now transformed into a social problem that required a different approach. It was no longer a matter of providing relief but services and these not just to a particular group of people but to all citizens. Moreover, these were not the bare minimum required but would soon be set at what the 1945 Labour Party manifesto called the ‘optimum standard’. Comprehensive social legislation was made a reality with the Liberal party in 1905 under the leadership of the younger generations of liberals, Herbert Asquith, David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill and the pressure of trade unions. They were committed to waging a war against misery and squalor. Under their leadership an impressive array of legislation was enacted: Workers Compensation Act (1906), Old Age Pension Laws (1908), Trade Board Acts (1909) that was empowered to set up special commissions to fix a minimum wage for workers. The National Insurance Act (1911) which was a contributory scheme for all workers was modelled on Bismarck’s scheme of 1883-9 and made friendly societies and trade unions ‘approved societies’ to administer the scheme reflecting the cooperation between state and voluntary bodies. Similarly measures for town planning were influenced by German laws and the Education Act of 1902 was an attempt to catch up with the German and French systems that were far more advanced.

The Liberals also enacted laws to clear slums and build proper houses for the poor in
1909. This aside from improving living conditions also fuelled a construction boom in the coming years. Lloyd George’s proposed budget of 1909 which was defeated in the House of Lords was written reflecting this new philosophy of welfare. He provided for an increase in income tax as well as a super tax on the incomes of the rich. He proposed to confiscate 20 per cent from unearned increment of land values as well as levied a heavy tax on undeveloped land. These revenues were to be used for old age pensions as well as other forms of social insurance. They would also go towards changing the
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social structure by breaking the monopoly of the rich nobility. There were many big landowners among the nobility, for instance the Duke of Westminister owned over 600 acres in London at this time. Though defeated the Liberals managed to enact many of these measures when they came back to power in 1910.

The post war years influenced by the economic crisis and unemployment before the war and this sense of crisis during the war fuelled the resurgence of left wing movements all over Europe. People increasingly demanded that the state had an obligation to secure the well being of its citizens. In 1942 Sir William Beveridge’s Report on Social Insurance and Allied Services (1942) laid out a practical plan for a comprehensive public protection of the individual. It was on the basis of this that the Labour government of 1945 enacted laws that ended the old poor law system and created a social security system that brought together earlier elements as well as allowed for voluntary schemes as well. Education had been reorganised through the Butler Act of 1944 and in 1945 a system of family allowances was started.


In Europe Germany presents an example where a different philosophy helped to determine the nature of the welfare system. Poor relief had traditionally been left to the communes but in Prussia systematic efforts were made to provide relief for the poor. In the Rhine provinces an unsuccessful attempt had been made in 1824 to restrict working hours of children in factories. They became more concerned when they realised that these provinces were not contributing their full quota of troops because of physical problems in the population. The powers to control industry had been taken away from the guild but after the middle of the century they were given the function of social insurance. A system of state sponsored education was also developed.

Germany under the leadership of Otto von Bismarck was the first country to adopt comprehensive social legislation. Bismarck was motivated by a political vision glorifying the nation and an economic vision that stressed national self-sufficiency and paternalism. He also sought to counter the threat posed by the demands of a socialist movement. In the Reichstag he stated clearly that the purpose of enacting legislation to provide insurance against sickness and old age to workers was so that ‘these gentlemen [Social Democrats] will sound their bird call in vain. The workers health was important to the nation because the worker was also the soldier that protected the state. The duty of the State, according to Bismarck was to regulate all aspects of life in the national interest. To make the nation strong it was necessary to help the weaker citizens.

The logic of the Bismarckian view can be traced to the changes brought about during the French Revolution when the levee en masse or universal conscription was introduced in August 1793 and then continued in the Law of Conscription 1798. The state now had the right to call up all its citizens to defend it. Now wars became conflicts between nations so that in democratic societies just as the state could call up all its citizens to defend it, it became the duty of the state to look after the welfare of its people. The scope of the revolutionary government in France reflected this new relationship as it carried out policies to improve and assist its people even abolishing slavery in the colonies. As David Thompson writes, “This connection between the necessities of warfare and the development of welfare was to remain constant throughout subsequent European history.”

Bismarck’s motives have been debated and it has been noted that he never mentioned social legislation in his memoirs. However, that is not a reliable guide because even as

Minister President of Prussia in 1862-63 he had begun to think of insurance plans for workers so that the subsequent legislation he initiated grew out of this earlier thinking. Certainly Bismarck tried hard to eradicate socialism, just as hard as he tried to control the Catholic Church, as a force in German political life. The anti-Socialist law of 1878 however failed to curb the growth of socialism and was allowed to lapse in 1890.

The German welfare system codified earlier voluntary activities by guilds, parishes and benefit societies through laws passed between 1883 and 1889, sought to provide insurance for urban workers against sickness, accident and problems of old age. These were further extended in 1911 to non-industrial workers such as agricultural workers and domestic servants so that in 1913 around fourteen and a half million people were insured. Laws regulating factories and child labour came in 1914 and unemployment insurance for workers only in 1924. In fact the German welfare system provided the most comprehensive protection to workers in all of Europe and became a model that many copied.

State Preserving Policies: Combating Socialism through Legislation

During 1883-84 Germany enacted social legislation that provided for factory inspection, limited the employment of women and children, fixed minimum hours of work, established public employment agencies and insured workers for their old age. Except for unemployment insurance Germany under Bismarck had adopted all the elements of welfare legislation. These measures were adopted because as the Emperor stated in the Reichstag in February 1879, while introducing the anti-socialist law of 21 October,
1878 that this House would not refuse its cooperation to the remedying of social ills by
means of legislation. A remedy cannot alone be sought in the repression of socialist excesses; there must be simultaneously the positive advancement of the welfare of the working class. And here the care of those workpeople who are incapable of earning their livelihood is of the first importance. The statement added to the Accident Insurance Bill, March 1881 explained the motives of the legislation in clear terms that the state: should interest itself to greater degree than hitherto in those of its members who need assistance, is not only a duty of and Christianity - by which state institutions should be permeated - but a duty of state-preserving policy, whose aim should be to cultivate the conception - and that, too, amongst nonpropertied classes, which form at once the most numerous and the least instructed part of the population - that the state is not merely a necessary but a beneficent institution. These classes must, by the evident and direct advantages which are secured to them by legislative measures, be led to regard the state not as an institution contrived for the protection of the better classes of society, but as one serving their own needs and interests.

In Europe other countries also followed this path to cope with the democratisation of politics. France enacted a law to regulate the employment of women and children and it fixed ten hours a day as the maximum for all workers. Working hours were further reduced in 1905. Other laws instituted free medical services, protection to labour unions and compensation for work related injuries from the employers and finally in 1910 an old age pension system. The Italian government also passed similar laws, except it did not provide free medical services though it encouraged co-operative stores and provided nationalised life insurance.


Unlike these polices that were marked by obligatory help on a long term basis in pre- modern Japan ideas of welfare were based on an ideology of benevolent rule where the ruler helped to mitigate the suffering of his people through timely help. To demonstrate
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his compassion and re-assert his moral authority the ruler would provide relief. Relief usually followed bad harvests and often vast sums were used to purchase rice that was distributed to the people. By the early nineteenth century such aid was supplemented by construction projects that provided work. The nature of this relief was grounded in a hierarchical relationship between the lord and his people but this was also reinforced by the demands of political stability. Peasants hit by famine posed a threat to social and political stability so benevolence became a vital political instrument.

The rulers saw the political necessity of ameliorating the effects of disaster but their benevolence was not unlimited. The people who could be helped were limited to those who had no one to turn to such as orphans and the destitute. It was not meant for the able-bodied for whom moral exhortations to be diligent and thrifty were the favoured panacea. Relief measures were carried out mostly through the family and the community. Since taxes were paid collectively the richer families were motivated to help the weaker and poorer. However, the authorities, domain or central actively encouraged and helped to set up institutions to provide help in calamitous times. In some domains granaries were set up in villages to provide rice during emergencies and charity was encouraged by official commendation.

9.5.1 Taking care of the Urban Poor: Wealthy Merchants and Charity

Pre-modern Japan had a high proportion of its population living in urban centres. The capital Edo (now called Tokyo) had over a million people at its height and Kyoto and Osaka a population of approximately half a million each and there were over dozen large castle towns. These urban centres attracted people from the countryside and inevitably a class of vagabonds and those with no fixed work grew. The cities mostly administered directly by the Shogunate set up relief shelters in the mid-seventeenth century. These provided temporary help after which the people were sent back to their villages. These gradually became permanent facilities by the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century. In the late eighteenth century a type of workhouse was started in Edo where the aim was to help those without a criminal background to learn new skills and become gainfully employed. This was in part a reaction to famine as well as urban riots. The inmates were also given a course of practical ethics to ensure that they were provided the appropriate moral basis to develop their lives.

Along with this a fund was created for providing temporary relief during emergencies as well as on-going help for the aged, children and the ill without relatives. The scale of the help provided can be gauged from the fact that in 1805 about 4 out of 1,000 townspeople in Edo received help. This relief system was sustained by a special tax and managed by wealthy merchants. This was then compared to Shogunal benevolence a more public and sustained relief system than the measures practised in the villages that tended to deal with specific emergencies.

9.5.2 Confucian Piety and Self-Help: The Ideas of Ninomiya

The development of such institutions was accompanied by ideas about how to tackle poverty and provide aid to the downtrodden, poor and destitute. Ninomiya Sontoku (1787-1856) was the most famous of the philosophers coming out of a prosperous farming family who advocated self-help. He and other reformers like him preached Confucian ideas of filial piety and diligence but they did not see the social order as static. They argued that even poor peasants by working hard, being thrifty and improving productivity by using new agricultural methods could improve their lot and become wealthy. However, it must be noted that while promoting self-help they did not see the

self as the individual but rather as the community. This led them to be critical of charity as counterproductive and they placed their emphasis on mutual assistance as well as interest free loans. So in 1830 Ninomiya Sontoku wrote, “Grants in money, or release from taxes, will in no way help them in their distress. Indeed, one secret of their salvation lies in withdrawing all monetary help from them. Such help only induces avarice and indolence, and is a fruitful source of dissension among the people.”

These were the different strands that together with the new ideas coming from the West that shaped the intellectual and institutional forms that welfare measures would take in the modern period. What does emerge is that certain key elements had been clearly formulated and these underlie much of the contemporary writing on the subject. These elements are that the problem of poverty can only be resolved through the joint efforts of the community and the state, the fear that relief would lead to laziness and dependence on state help and that moral suasion was an important element in resolving the problem of poverty.

9.5.3 Meiji Welfare Polices: Saving the Samurai or Charity begins at Home

The creation of the modern state in Japan began after the restoration of 1868 when the Tokugawa Shogunate was overthrown and the Meiji Government established. The Meiji government instituted a series of measures to set up the institutional structure of a modern state system grounded in the belief that it was the responsibility of the state to create a strong and prosperous country. As in many other areas the idea of welfare was heavily influenced by the earlier notions of giving relief to the needy thus the government responded to disasters and helped those without support. The biggest beneficiaries of state aid by the new Meiji government were the samurai, the erstwhile ruling group that as a class had seen its incomes decline. The government alive to the potential of political disruption instituted a scheme to commute their land rents into government bonds that would enable them to make the transition.

Government practices were also influenced by the examples now available to them from Europe. Thus the Agricultural distress fund Law of 1880 which set up reserve funds to provide grants or loans to those affected by bad harvests was modelled on regulations in effect in Prussia. Under this law during 1881-1886 over three million affected people were helped and another million families received grants. The success of this was praised in German newspapers of the day but this fund was severely curtailed after 1890 when the state withdrew its contributions. Other groups of poor who did not constitute a political threat were not so generously looked after.

9.5.4 Relief and the Poor: Dangers of Dependence

The Meiji government’s centralisation policies found in civic institutions alternative centres of power that needed to be curtailed. Thus the fund managed by the wealthy merchants of Edo was abolished in 1872 despite the massive relief work it had done during the turmoil of the Meiji restoration. The basic law that looked after the welfare of the poor was the Relief Regulations of 1874. This law aimed to provide small assistance to the poor but because conditions for giving relief were so stringent that actually very few received it. In 1876 only 2,521 received it and by 1892 it had gone up to only 18,545 and this despite years of recession and distress. The idea that state welfare could debilitate the recipient remained very strong. Thus the Home Ministry wrote that ‘if the elderly, sick, poor and decrepit grow accustomed to relief, in the end, will not good people lapse into idleness and lose their spirit of independence and, in particular, become reliant on the government.”
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Politics 9.5.5 Influence of Western Ideas on Japan

Ideas about poverty began to be influenced by western writings where the influence of John Malthus Essay on Population gave rise to a vast literature against public assistance programmes. In books such as Henry Fawcett’s Pauperism: Its causes and remedies it was argued that poverty was due to individual failing and the answer was in self- improvement rather than government assistance. Similarly, Fukuzawa Yukichi, arguably one of the most influential Meiji thinkers, argued for a national relief law, on the basis of England’s New Poor Law of 1834 but only if it served to take people off state assistance. This thinking was reflected, in the reduction of public relief by state bodies. In 1881 the Tokyo Prefectural assembly stopped funds for free medical treatment and the first popularly elected Imperial Diet of 1890 attacked the government’s poor relief bill.

English liberalism and ideas of laissez-faire (non-interventionism) helped to buttress government desire to reduce expenditure on poor relief. The government sought to ensure that relief would be managed through the community and the family and in this the Civil Code of 1898 provided explicit support. In other words the state intervened to force family and neighbours to aid the poor. The state worked through private relief efforts in time of emergencies and this policy proved successful because Japan was still largely an agrarian society. The number of farm households declined slowly till WWII and this meant that family, community and mutual assistance networks continued to function effectively.

The mid-1880’s witnessed economic recession and social problems so much so that the question of poverty and how to eliminate it became a central focus of discussion and debate. The influence of Bismarck’s social policies in Germany provided an alternative route for some of the leading Japanese thinkers and bureaucracy involved in formulating policy. They argued that it was the responsibility of the State to raise productivity and maintain order and for this the health and well being of its population was an integral element. Bureaucrats influenced by these ideas wanted a European style welfare programme in which public assistance and social insurance for workers would be provided. The first attempt to modify the Relief Regulations, along European lines, where central funds would be disbursed through municipalities was defeated.

Redefining Japanese Welfare: The Difference from Europe

In Japan in 1902 when another attempt to propose a poor relief bill was made critics argued that it would encourage indolence, drain resources and increase the number of poor. A man who represented this new thinking was Inoue Tomoichi, who had made a close study of the welfare systems practised in Europe and written extensively on them. In his various official positions he was to exercise a great influence on policy formation. Now they began to define Japanese policy in terms of its difference from England, Germany and other European countries. Their concern was how to prevent the rise of poverty that seemed to accompany industrialisation and for this they argued that welfare is not a right but an act of mercy by the State and will be given by the central government. The healthy poor will be excluded unlike Europe where there was an on-going relief system for the healthy and able bodied poor.

Here arguments were advanced that Japan was different from the West because in Japan the family was the important unit rather than the individual. This was the reason for a low population of poor and helped to keep relief expenditure by the state down as well. They saw England as the prime example of escalating welfare expenditure. In this they were successful as the number of welfare recipients was brought down so that in
1903 it was only 3 in 10,000 Japanese. There were subsequent cuts in the central
36 budget and the responsibility was shifted to municipalities so that even as the population

rose and inflation grew welfare expenditures fell. Government efforts were directed at preventing poverty through moral instruction.

The idea that poverty could be reduced through a proper moral curriculum and training was in part a product of the influence of the British Fabian socialists Beatrice and Sydney Webb. Beatrice Webb’s Minority Report to the Royal Commission on the Poor Law (1905-1909) argued for abolishing the Poor law. Their jointly written book The Prevention of Destitution, (1911) suggested that while preventive measures such as minimum wages, education, medical services were important there was also an equally important need to reform the habits of the unemployed. In line with this thinking the Webbs when they visited Japan emphasised to their hosts the need to prevent the poor from developing the idea that relief was a matter of right.

9.5.6 National Objectives and Welfare: Strengthening State

The period after the Russo-Japanese war (1904-1905) saw government policies successfully integrating and linking the individual and the state. Policies were directed at directing individual effort to fulfil national objectives and welfare polices too were drafted within this framework. Rather than poor relief the government focussed in rebuilding the community as with urbanisation and industrialisation community and village bonds had loosened if not withered away. The growth of slums in urban centres reflected the growing numbers of poor workers. In the Local Improvement Campaign (1906-1918) the government used municipalities as well as private organisations to organise community groups such as the local “repaying virtue societies (hotokusha) The government also encouraged local leaders to undertake social work and to that end sponsored seminars at the national and local level to teach them how to go about doing this. It also established in 1908 a central Charity Association to study issues of poverty and carry out relief work.

9.5.7 Private Charity: Emperor and Christian Groups

The government guided private work because as they said unlike the West Japan did not have a long tradition of private charity. Christian groups played a very important part both in setting up orphanages and other charitable institutions and in influencing government policy on moral reform. It was Christians such as Tomeoka Kosuke, a social reformer who were active in introducing the ideas of Ninomiya Sontoku that hard work and thrift would eliminate poverty.

The Imperial household also played a large role in contributing to welfare activities through donations. These were directed through private organisations and often motivated by a desire to curb radical political movements. Thus the largest donations were made in 1910 when twelve socialists were executed for allegedly trying to kill the Emperor. In terms of the amount of money spent private institutions continued to play a major role but the state managed many of the voluntary bodies often forcing people to donate. The thinking behind government policies continued to be that relief was not a matter of right.

9.5.8 New Ideas about Relief: Public Responsibility of the State

The years following WWI saw the emergence of Japan as a major political actor on the international scene. Internally the expansion of the economy also helped to sharpen social problems. Japanese bureaucrats as well as reformers began to now look for welfare models in Britain, Weimar Germany and the United States. Relief work had been supervised by the Bureau of Local Affairs but by 1920 a Bureau of Social Affairs was established which looked after poor relief, veteran’s assistance, children’s welfare
Modern State and


The Modern State and

and unemployment. The bureaucrats in these offices had a different viewpoint. They argued that in these new times it was no longer possible to rely on family or neighbourhood for relief. The state must spend resources on ensuring public assistance. They saw society as the unit at which poverty could be tackled and this view was grounded in social theories emanating from Europe that said the state had a public responsibility. However, even while the state’s obligation to relieve poverty now became the key element in social policy earlier ideas were not jettisoned and the family system continued to be stressed. Also the idea that public assistance must not create dependency continued to be a major strain in official documents as well as in the thinking of reformers.

The Bureau managed to institute labour exchanges (1921) workers health insurance (1922) restrictions on work hours for children, women (1923) mandatory retirement age and severance pay (1936) and seaman’s insurance (1938). While debates continued about what system to adopt and various commissions studied European practices the district commissioner system developed in Osaka was an innovative contribution. In each school district the government selected a local notable or person of virtue. Each of these unpaid commissioners was responsible for two hundred households. They in turn elected representatives to an Executive Council which met once a month. The commissioners surveyed the poor in their area, provided counsel and helped organise relief funds or medical care and other social services. This system spread so that by
1931 district commissioners were in 43 prefectures and by 1942 there were nearly
74,560 commissioners (4,537 of them women). Nearly all the municipalities had adopted this system by 1942.

The district commissioner system became the cornerstone of social policy because it was cost effective and allowed timely intervention to help families in a variety of ways ranging from advice on better household management to medical care or providing relief. The commissioners could also help to correct household registers as they tracked down relatives who could provide support to destitute relatives. These commissioners came from the middle classes rather than the local notables who had been the earlier focus of relief systems.

9.5.9 The Ministry of Health and Welfare: Furthering the War

The district commissioners system was followed by the Relief and Protection Law (1929) which was not in any way different in its assumptions from the earlier relief regulations but with the war in China the government established the Ministry of Health and Welfare, at the suggestion of the Army Ministry. The military wanted an efficient health policy for not only its soldiers but for the people from whom it drew its soldiers. The revised Military Assistance Law of 1937 provided for assistance with minimal requirements. Moreover, the assistance was not channelled through the family and the recipient did not lose his right to vote. Unlike earlier systems this did not make it difficult for the poor to seek state relief. Through the war all systems including the district commissioners system were directed towards the war effort. This helped in providing welfare facilities for the general population rather than just the poor. For instance, day care centres were provided for all children, as was medical care allowances to fatherless families and finally in 1938 a National Health Insurance Law that covered the whole population was passed. The war years while they did see a broadening of the scope of social legislation did neglect the destitute and infirm because it concentrated on the mobilising the nation for the war effort.

Japan’s social legislation did not achieve the levels of Britain, the United States or many countries in Europe till after WWII. The history of its pre-war system shows that indigenous institutions and practices played an important role in shaping social legislation

often incorporating and building on West European and United States policies. Equally
Japanese policy makers changed and adapted these ideas to suit their objectives.
Modern State and


Surveying the history of state concern for the welfare of the people shows the varying paths that countries have taken influenced by their histories and traditions. The traditional concerns whether of relief and charity or of benevolence guided the thinking of rulers and ruled in their understanding of how to better the conditions of the poor and infirm. In the eighteenth century the capitalist transformation of the world created a global economy. The expansion of the economies of the European powers not only allowed them to carve the world into colonial enclaves but also created a larger class of people who benefited from this expansion within their own countries. The British Reform Acts of 1867 and 1883, for instance, expanded the electorate from 3 per cent to 29 per cent. This expansion changed the terms of political debate forcing the state to forge new forms of legitimacy.

Humanitarian concerns became politically important. Earlier such concerns had been expressed through the family or community, particularly religious organisations, or had been seen as acts of benevolence in times of calamity. Now the state began to see the need to provide social legislation to not only provide relief during disasters but also to improve living conditions and reduce subordination and exploitation and accommodate increased political participation. This did not follow a uniform pattern. In Germany and Japan social legislation became a vital element in the policy of social control. In this welfare legislation was a way of strengthening national power. However, the general democratisation of politics and greater political participation through the electoral process changed the forms of social control and placed greater reliance on internalised moral and cultural mechanisms. Relief and charity expanded and were transformed through social legislation that sought to provide for the needs of all its citizens from ‘cradle to grave’. The questions that were raised when these policies were initially formulated still remain, namely, does state support lead to dependence and loss of initiative, are the financial costs placing an unacceptable burden on those who do not benefit from these policies, and do entitlements or reservations create special interest groups. These questions are still with us and are far from resolved, one way or the other. Even though we do not have the answer, we at least know that these questions are important even today and will continue to attract attention so long as economic disparities persist in the world.


1) How was welfare as practised in Britain different from that practised in Germany?

2) What were the various ideas that were propagated on the concept of welfare?

3) Write an essay on the welfare measures taken in Japan.


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