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The welfare state is a concept of government in which the state plays a key role in the protection and promotion of the social and economic well-being of its citizens. It is based on the principles of equality of opportunity, equitable distribution of wealth, and public responsibility for those unable to avail themselves of the minimal provisions for a good life. The general term may cover a variety of forms of economic and social organization. The sociologist T.H. Marshall described the modern welfare state as a distinctive combination of democracy, welfare, and capitalism.
Modern welfare states include Germany, France, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, as well as the Nordic countries, such as Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Finland which employ a system known as the Nordic model. Esping-Andersen classified the most developed welfare state systems into three categories; Social Democratic, Conservative, and Liberal.
The welfare state involves a transfer of funds from the state, to the services provided (i.e., healthcare, education, etc.), as well as directly to individuals ("benefits"). It is funded through redistributionist taxation and is often referred to as a type of "mixed economy". Such taxation usually includes a larger income tax for people with higher incomes, called a progressive tax. Proponents argue that this helps reduce the income gap between the rich and poor.
The German term Sozialstaat ("social state") has been used since 1870 to describe state support programs devised by German Sozialpolitiker ("social politicians") and implemented as part of Bismarck's conservative reforms.
The literal English equivalent "social state" didn't catch on in Anglophone countries. However, during the Second World War, Anglican Archbishop William Temple, author of the book Christianity and the Social Order (1942), popularized the concept using the phrase "welfare state." Bishop Temple's use of "welfare state" has been connected to Benjamin Disraeli's 1845 novel Sybil: or the Two Nations (i.e., the rich and the poor), which speaks of "the only duty of power, the social welfare of the PEOPLE.'" At the time he wrote Sybil, Disraeli, later Prime Minister, belonged to Young England, a conservative group of youthful Tories who disagreed with how the Whig dealt with the conditions of the industrial poor. Members of Young England attempted to garner support among the privileged classes to assist the less fortunate, and to recognize the dignity of labor that they imagined had characterized England during the Feudal Middle Ages.
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