Programs Benefits Individuals Society

Social Welfare

Bell (1999) defines social welfare as the programs organized by governments and local authorities to provide for individuals with financial constraints and needs for resources of any kind so as to exist in society. it is basically the assistance offered to individuals through various programs such as healthcare, food provision, compensation of the unemployed as well as other social benefits given to the vulnerable (Belone et al, 2002). However, it is important to note that the benefits bestowed to beneficiaries of social welfare are varying from country to country and by size and scope.

Social Control

On the other hand, Brown (2007) defines social control as the range of pressures and actions meant to disrupt social order. Brown (2007) argues that these pressures and actions exist in the form of sanctions meant to enforce certain norms and informal sanctions (which may be physical, symbolic or material) espoused within the administrative rulings and laws. Bureau of Indian Affairs (1968) argues that social control can be achieved through social means such as institutional, economic and social structures, riles and regulations. Ironically, social control is an important aspect of society’s daily living because it would be difficult to live in a society that is not socially controlled. this is because social control bestows on a society a set of agreed social order aimed at making life easier (Day & Schiele, 2013).


Literature by Dogloff et al 92012 identifies two types of social control namely formal and informal social control. Informal social control defines how humans conform to the values and norms of society and how they adapt to a particular set of beliefs that are learned through a process of socialization. According to Dominelli (1996), this form of social control is often enforced by caregivers, parents, guardian or even peers. on the other hand, informal social control refers to the form of control imposed by sanctions and rewards.

on the other hand, coercion may refer to situations when individuals have no available options for them to make any decisions or circumstances when individuals are required to conform to certain classifications, perform certain actions, or desist from performing certain actions in order to acquire certain benefits, entitlements or services (Day & Schiele, 2013). furthermore, Bell (1999) argues that coercion exists when an individual’s or a group’s thoughts and actions are restricted or compelled by another group of individuals through some form of moral or physical compulsion. In this essay, we argue that welfare recipients face frequent compulsion or restriction through physical means i.e. through restriction of the level of assistance they get, or through the morals and myths that define them as inferior.

first, we begin by arguing that in the contemporary society, the irony is that social welfare is not truly the expected humanitarian benevolent aspect but rather, it is a means used by the state to infuse a coercive social control system of the society with an aim of maintaining the status quo characterized by dominant classes who are determined to exercise their power and control on those they perceive as potential or actual disruption of the society. This insight corroborates with the thoughts of Goroff (1974) that it is only when inequitable power arrangements in the society are maintained that a stable community can be achieved – thereby creating a justification of unequal economic resources and life chances distribution.

Hence, it is believed that for a “stable social order” to be achieved, the rilling force must obtain mechanisms of repression, suppression, and control over the ruling ideas so that the current social arrangement can successfully be justified. according to Griffin (1957), the ruling ideas represent the myths of knowledge meant to legitimize the currently existing social arrangements.

a prominent myth of knowledge that exists within the spheres of social welfare is that there are two categories of the poor, namely the “worthy poor” and the “unworthy” poor. in fact, Bell (1999) acknowledges that this classification of poor people dates back to poor laws of England, and the sociology of this myth is purely evident in America where the wealthy attempted to diffuse the conflicts and tensions arising from the social imbalance of wealth among the poor and the rich – a contemporary example of this phenomenon being the recently experience ‘Yellow Vest’ demonstrations experienced in France. In fact, back to history, Griffin (1957) argued that organizations such as the American Bible Society and the American Sunday School spearheaded the legitimization of inequitable distribution of resources and wealth by attributing it to the will of God. Griffin (1957) went ahead to argue that while under a strong influence of Federalism and Puritanism, members of these organizations the few people with special attainments should exercise supervision over the majority and hence it was important to bring religion to the common people because, as they believed, Christianity would help bridge the gap between the rich and the poor so that instead of demonstrations and mobs such as those experienced recently in France that led to property destruction and loss of millions of money, there would be peace and good feeling between these two groups .

To explain further, the criteria for what has become worthy and unworthy poor was illustrated by Emory Washburn in 1874 when he asserted that the rich had the right to their wealth, and therefore there was no point in the poor sharing the wealth of the rich and that if this was maintained, the poor would not have a desire other people’s wealth, while Christians would not rise against each other. Hence, according to Emory, the worthy poor are those who would not desire the wealth of the rich, especially after accepting that Christians have the right to their wealth.

Later in 1878, as narrated by Griffin (1957), A Reverend, Gardiner Spring from the American Tract Society agreed with the Darwinian Theory which posits that those who amass wealth through their own economy and hard work had strong character and intellectual faculties. the theory further holds that both they and those who inherit wealth have influence over the community because they deserve to have such influence.

The social Darwinian theory allows us to understand how the concept of the worthy rich, the worthy poor and the unworthy poor emerge to become part of the reason for the existence of an unequal distribution of wealth and economic resources. when human beings are objectified by classifying them as unworthy or worthy is inherent to the past and contemporary society. This is evident in the case of France where the seemingly unworthy poor have staged demonstrations that lead to loss of life and property worth millions in the name of challenging the rich to their wealth (Local France, 2019).

The idea of unworthy and worthy poor and the use of welfare to socially discriminate people have been identified in the study by Goroff (1974). Goroff quite a study by County Commissioners which found that among the respondents, 68% people did not have jobs because they did not want to work, while 22% believed that there was a shortage of jobs. another 82% believed that children from welfare families remain to be on welfare to their adulthood because they inherit the inferior talents from their parents. the other study quoted by Gorff investigated citizen’s attitude towards welfare and found that the extent to which the respondents approved or disapproved the provision of welfare service depended on the provider’s perception of the recipient’s worthiness.

Ideally, the explored pieces of evidence only reveal that being poor is inferior and inferiority is often associated with stigma. However, Brown (2007) argues that whereas being poor is somehow disreputable, being in welfare is more disreputable and that whereas those who live in disreputable situations are termed as ‘hard-core’, this term also extends to the poor and those who live on welfare. When the minor shortcoming is added to the disgrace of being poor and the need for assistance (i.e. welfare), a major stigma is experienced.

A complete demonstration of how the poor on welfare experience coercion may require more space that is available herein. However, considering the case of King v Smith, it was noted by the court that each state has the freedom to set its own standards of need and to establish the level of benefits depending on the number of funds it allocates to welfare programs. Besides, the court decided that states had the discretion to establish their own standards of the moral character of welfare applicants. While we would desire to explore all the instances where states have used these discretionary powers to exercise coercion over welfare recipients, only a few (particularly in the USA) are worth mentioning:

The case of Wilkie v O’Connor, the welfare state appeared to have the powers to state where and how a welfare recipient was supposed to live. in this case, it was ruled that the state’s welfare department had the powers and discretion to a form of social way of life among welfare recipients. Ideally, the recipient argued in the case that he was only given the right to sleep in a vest of rags even though he had the right to live according to how he pleased. However, while delivering the ruling, the court mentioned that he had no right to defy the conventions and standards of a civilized society while being under support at the expense of the public.

besides, in the case of Wyman v James, the court ruled that while the welfare recipient (James) had all the necessary requirements to qualify for welfare help, the welfare authority had the legal authority to stop sending payments to his family because James did not make arrangements with the social worker responsible for the case to visit his home.

It is expected that when recipients of welfare receive money, they have the liberty o spend and dispose of it at their discretion. However, as experienced in the same case of Wyman v James, recipients of welfare do not have such freedom. instead, the welfare authority has the power to monitor they spend it, as seen in the ruling of the case of Wyman v James that through the welfare agency, the state has an appropriate interest in ensuring that the tax-produced assistance only benefits the people it is intended to benefit.

The few mentioned case gives an idea of the pressure experienced by people under welfare programs, a phenomenon that creates several challenges to social workers including ethical dilemma in their relationship with clients. But analyzing the case of Wyman v James, an interesting point in the ruling emerges, which is worth noting. The court argued that whereas it was true that the federal statute does make the visit mandatory, the visit is an important excursive by the welfare authority because it provides a personal rehabilitative orientation to the social worker. but, according to Goroff (1974) labeling the visit as rehabilitative protects the visit from judicial scrutiny and only serves to make an assumption that the goals of the authority are similar with James’ goals, which is not true. Rather, this assumption serves to allow the social worker to meddle in the affairs of the client, permitting abuses that are not subject to judicial scrutiny.

Even if the social worker in the case of Wyman v James was highly skilled and had high adherence to ethical considerations, it is impossible to assume that the worker’s supervisory role would disappear, as this role is ever operative. Ultimately, whatever the original intention, the social worker would legally report any evidence of illegality identified while on a visit to James’ home. This corroborates with Brown (2007) assertions that any contact between the social worker and the welfare beneficiary bear the characteristics of a ‘search’ because the worker possesses the legal responsibility and executive power to commit any incursion in the individual’s privacy.

We from the case of Wyman v James that it is inherently possible that welfare recipients are predisposed to high levels of coercion in such situations. This is especially arguably true considering the fact that most welfare recipients are powerless and may be partially or wholly ignorant of their legal rights, thus increasing the probability of welfare authorities and personnel being coercive without facing the law.

we also argue that a welfare authority worker who is unable to distinguish between their helping role and investigative role is likely to have difficulties in exercising the authority vested in them as social workers. It is based on this psychological explanation that we clearly distinguish the role of helping others from the role of investigating them. We, therefore, claim that the problem is often vested on the social workers, and this is escalated by the fact that the social workers are always under pressure and threats of being sacked if they do not perform their jobs properly.

We also take the position that it is extremely difficult for social workers to be coercive to welfare recipients without themselves experiencing coercion from the entire system. Against this backdrop, Silverman (1974) argues that social workers always justify their participation in social control against welfare recipients by arguing that they provide rehabilitative services. However, the scholar argues that this excuse reveals a conflicting interest among social workers.

Nevertheless, social workers sometimes become aware of the coercion and social control they subject welfare recipients too. This is especially true considering assertions by Weisman & Chwast (1960) most forms of social work are avenues for exercising control of persons who show deviant behaviours although such services are not meant for such. Hence, while the big issue is whether social workers always engage in social control, it is true that they engage in it because the term social control is defined sociologically. it is therefore important to develop strategies of supporting them out of this habit.

We conclude that despite being important parts of welfare programs, social workers generally do not have a choice of what values to support, and are instead just part of an entire system that is designed to coerce and control the welfare recipients while maintaining the status quo. while the social workers are required to observe rules of professional practice by acting in ways that value the dignity of the recipients, this is not always the case. the solution is, therefore, to introduce various structural changes within the public welfare system that adheres to the principle that all humans are equal and are entitled to equal levels of financial assistance. Unless this occurs, it would be difficult to eliminate social control perpetrated through welfare programs.

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