Titmuss’ essay ‘The Social Division of Welfare’ written in 1956 revolutionised the conventional definition of social policy in its unorthodox focus on the aims as oppose to the administrative methods of the welfare system. This new scope of analysis allowed Titmuss’ normative theory to advance, suggesting reasons for the development of welfare and provide an exploration of social divisions that was not reductionist. Titmuss’ work counteracted two assumptions which have run through practically all the recent critical writings on social policy, These are;
“It is possible to define what a ‘social service’ is and to identify, in each sector of state intervention, who has benefited and who has paid. It is practicable, desirable and meaningful in a complex society undergoing rapid and widespread change to abstract a ‘social service world’ from the Greater Society and to consider the functions and effects of the part without reference to the life of the whole.” (Titmuss, 1956 in Alcock, Glennerster, Oakley and Sinfield (eds) 2001, p61).
Titmuss emphasises that the welfare state has a function, which is to meet certain socially defined needs. They reflect the functionalist ideal of social solidarity and the cohesion between the more advantaged, recognising the obligation to help the less fortunate. These social and individual needs are jointly related and necessary for the continuation of societal harmony. The shift from one into the other varies with time, the notion of what constitutes a need and the differing dependencies of the individual and the family.
Titmuss paid particular attention to the period from the end of the nineteenth century to the nineteen fifties as this era lay rise to state intervention, which has come to be called the social services. As these services increased so too did the term social services in its application to different sections of the benefit system required to compensate for certain dependencies. The social services went beyond the traditional pool of thought of providing poor relief, sanitation and public nuisances, blurring a consistent definition of what is a social service. The following examples illustrate the confusion obscured by previous assumptions and outline the risks of a social service system created for the transfer of benefits from one income group to another:
“The family allowance is a social service. The child allowance as remission of tax is not.”
“The investigation of legal aid applications is a social service. Legal aid grants are not.” work info
“Village halls and playing fields are social services. Cheap tobacco for old age pensioners is not.”
“University education is a social service. The training of domestic workers is not’.” (Abel-Smith and Titmuss 1987, p45).
This perplexity of what is and what is not a social service has led to some acts of state intervention, which are not a part of the welfare system, being incorrectly labelled as a social service due to shared objectives. Titmuss emphasises this differential “growth in the social division of welfare in response to changing situations and conceptions of ‘need”. (Titmuss 1976, p42)
Titmuss identifies three different forms of collective intervention within welfare: social welfare, fiscal welfare and occupational welfare. The differences that exist between these forms of welfare are not based on their functions or aims but rather their methodological approach in relation to complex labour division. It is here that Titmuss excels in concentrating on the definition of a ‘social service’ in terms of its aims and not the administrative procedures through which they are achieved.
Titmuss notes that a major factor in the development and growth of welfare was the decline of the old Poor Law and the increase in states of dependency as societal responsibility. These states of dependency occur when an individual is not in a position to earn life for themselves and are therefore dependent people. This dependency can either be natural as in extreme old age, childhood and ill health, or man-made, as in unemployment, compulsory retirement from work and the delayed entry of young people into the labour market.
“All may involve to some degree the destruction, curtailment, interruption or frustration of earning power in the individual, and more pronounced secondary dependencies when they further involve the wives, children and other relatives.” (Abel-Smith and Titmuss 1987, p46).
These ‘man-made’ dependencies have increased, partly as a result of dependants not dying now as they did before the twentieth century, but most significantly has been the increasing division of labour and labour specificity as a result of technological and industrial change. Durkheim (1933, p13) suggested the implications of a twentieth century society characterised by specialisation and ultimately the individual experience of selection and rejection would increase social dependency. In response Titmuss said that social policies have a greater recognition of individual dependencies, as well as expanding the categories of welfare available. (Titmuss 1976, p44).
Titmuss outlines the differences between a cash transaction, as a direct cash payment through the central government account such as family allowances, and an accounting convenience, such as allowances and relief from income tax. Both indicate policies that favour certain groups and mirror changes in public perception of the relationship between the state, the individual and the family. The fiscal welfare system has increasingly placed importance on family dependency and eradicated the restrictions that once lay, supporting only those in the lowest paid sections of the income tax population.
Occupational welfare includes pensions for employees, child allowances, death benefits, health and welfare services, personal expenses for travel, meal vouchers, motorcars, residential accommodation, holiday expenses, children’s school fees, sickness benefits, medical expenses, education and training grants, unemployment benefit, medical bills and a whole range of other forms of support. Occupational welfare can well be seen as a form of ‘social service’ however; it favours the wealthier taxpayer by latently increasing occupational achievement and is far from the aim of aiding the needy
Titmuss’ idea of three very different forms of social services undermines the previous assumption made about the welfare state, underpinning the stereotypical view of visible welfare. It also illustrates how individuals are no longer a unit of labour power as everyone is, in some form or another, dependent and are obliged to meet the dependency of the individual and the family. Nevertheless, the distribution of dependency and the form that it is in can have detrimental effects on social divisions. Occupational welfare widens class and vocational divisions through supplying distinct types of welfare benefit that are based on occupational status. The ambiguity of the term ‘social service’ has led to the development of social policies to advantage certain groups within the population.
In concluding an explanation for social divisions in welfare Titmuss believes “the dominating operative factor has been the increasing division of labour in society and, simultaneously, a great increase in labour specificity.” (Titmuss 1976, p43). Along with other social differentiation such as gender, age and professional qualification, which could result in further social inequalities. (Abel-Smith and Titmuss (eds) 1987, p53). Certain groups become more class conscious and seek sectional equality rather than societal or individual, however the sectional aims of equity invariably favour the most powerful and occupationally successful. Overall the increased specialisation and individuation of modern society has resulted in a greater individual dependency and awareness of this dependency of which the three welfare systems have attempted to compensate for, but have in reality increased social inequality.
There are many strengths to Titmuss’s theory – It is an adaptable, embracing mid-range theory and does not seek to explain everything. It is firmly grounded in social realities. It challenges narrow stereotypes of public welfare, for example who is dependent and the nature of dependency in society. It recognises the complex relationship between welfare and social divisions and shows that it is not because poor people are stupid that they remain poor. The theory also rejects reductionism – i.e. does not reduce all forms of welfare to public welfare, nor all social divisions to one factor – shows that there is no single explanation. The thesis has considerable potential for development, and is not a fundamentalist text. It can also make visible questions of power and influence. The thesis emphasizes inter-dependence and challenges economic individualism.
However, I do not find this theory very persuasive. I do not agree that welfare brings people together, I believe that welfare itself creates divisions. It causes a class struggle because people can stigmatise public welfare and the people who receive it, which ultimately emphasises the class divide .
As argued by Giddens (1994), the state cannot provide universal solutions in a diverse society. Social difference, globalisation, different risks and social changes mark a post-modern era, which requires people to be active lifestyle managers, not passive dependents of the state. In order to overcome welfare dependency we need to overcome the depencies of productivism. Giddens (1994) believes that this in turn requires the promotion of the “autotellic self”.
“The autotellic self does not seek to neutralise risk or to suppose that ‘someone else will take care of the problem’; risk is confronted as the active challenge which generates self-actualization.” (Giddens, 1994, pp.192)
There are many other weaknesses in Titmuss’s theory. For example he underestimates the market as an innovating force, he doesn’t acknowledge that it is market as well as political and economic powers as reasons behind social divisions – it is not within the interest of many to bridge social divisions through welfare. Titmuss has not explored the reason for social divisions and misrepresents them by relying on too heavily on Durkheim’s views. His theory is bedded in, and therefore wedded to, social policy and is therefore rather sociologically narrow. The Social Division of Welfare thesis is not always clear about the key variables and major lines of social fragmentation – it rejects reductionism and does not accept that welfare is a form of consumption e.g. receiving food in hospitals is an expectation of the public. The theory also has a normative bias and can privilege public welfare over other forms of welfare.
In conclusion, dependency arises from the historic demands of capitalism and the requirements that we sell our labour. Divisions arise as we contest places in the labour market – seeking to exclude ‘others’ e.g. Immigrants. Power and privilege are exercised to influence policy (e.g EU farm subsidies) and to set ‘discourse’. Gender, class, age and social identity (e.g. ethnicity and disability) are the key social divisions around which welfare is contested causing sectionalism to arise. (However Titmuss fails to acknowledge these forms of sectionalism.) Consumption processes, not just class, become sites for contesting the Social Division of Welfare (e.g. fuel tax protests, court action re pension miss-selling scandals).
I believe that the Social Division of Welfare Thesis is an extremely well established and strong argument in explaining contemporary patterns of social exclusion, welfare dependency and social division. However I do not believe that it is 100% persuasive because, along with its strengths, there are many weaknesses which I have explored, and which point out flaws in Titmuss’s theory to suggest that it might not be totally unbiased and correct.