Conservatism and Social Policy: Unraveling the Threads of Welfare Discourse


Welfare is a political issue that majority of people in the society have different views and opinions on. The society is however unaware of the ideas that inform those opinions. This paper purposes to develop an understanding of Conservatism in welfare. It will as well discuss various concepts within social policy. Conservative is a set of ideas that are based on central conviction about fundamental limits of human condition and opposes ideas that are not in line with human imperfection and social differences (Fagnani, 2012). Since the beginning of the twentieth century, welfare has been dominantly provided by the government. Presently, the state of welfare has increased in size but government support for it has fallen, particularly in conservatism. Ideology is the study of ideas, whereas welfare is the help given by the state and organizations to people who are in need of it, i.e. the vulnerable and impoverished individuals. Welfare also focuses on the physical and mental health of an individual (Mishra, 2014). To ensure the survival of welfare systems, it is essential to increase public support for it especially in conservatism.

There are different approaches to welfare each having its own unique attributes, the two core ideologies are conservatism and liberalism with this worksheet majoring on Conservatism and what it stands for in so far as welfare is concerned in the society (Nisbet et al., 2017). Specific attention is given to different principles, policies and views in conservatism in relation to welfare and based on the recent views and principles what other new views and policies should be introduced to improve welfare and increase support for welfare in conservatism.

Conservatism and the purpose of welfare

Conservatism performs two major functions for welfare: delivering up reciprocity and backing up opportunities to provide people with tools they need to prosper. In this regard, reciprocity refers to a moral principle, where an individual has to receive what is related to what they have given out or offered. It contradicts any principle that determines reward based on the status of an individual such as need. Conservatism believes that fairness is more about those who behave bad getting punished to those who behave well getting rewarded. In welfare, reciprocity is realized in two ways, contributory models and conditionality (Van and Vis, 2014). On the other hand, backing up opportunities in conservatism is important as it enables welfare to promote access to opportunities. It should enable means through which people get back on their feet to improve their situations (O’Sullivan, 2013). Conservatism prefers that which takes the form of certain opportunities for people to get on in life.


Conservatism and its approach to welfare

Conservatism proposes the belief that the society should rely on the state to take care of people, since it has the obligation of caring for people who have no ways to support themselves. This kind of support should be channeled through entrepreneurship and provision of incentives for social responsibility among undertakers of such initiatives. Moreover, conservatism is more about the nature of welfare to the impetus required to sustain it. Conservatism criticizes the electoral system as far as welfare is concerned. Analysis reveals that themes such as harm reduction, community, family, economic prosperity, and freedom are common in conceptions of a good society (O’Sullivan, 2013). A very significant question in future research will have to do with the extent to which conservatism agrees and disagrees with ways of approaching a good society whilst ignoring elements of a bad society.

Conservatives hold the belief that societal rights consist of freedom from government interference in some aspects of their life and the exercise of some specific fundamental activities. Some of these are freedom of assembly, speech, freedom to petition the government, freedom of religion, freedom from cruel punishment and confiscation of property by the government without compensation. From a conservatism view, a society has few entitlements to provision of other forms of services from the government, no constitutionally established rights such as being provided with food, pension, high wages, housing, medical care or employment and education (Gamble, 2014). The latter benefits constitute costly and monetary payments, thus implying that someone has to pay for them. Notably, conservatism is more driven by concerns such as order, social stability, hierarchy and tradition and protects the legitimate existing political, social and economic arrangements (Jost et al., 2017).

Clearly, conservatism advocates for heavy progressive income tax and abolition of all inheritance rights. Such a policy remains an important element of contemporary political platforms. It holds that a person has the right to keep their earnings and property, to pass an estate on to their spouses, children, and other family without larger portions being taken by the state (Shwart, 2014). Conservatism advocates for the abolition and dismantlement of traditional families where childcare is provided for by the State. It believes that best care for children is provided by parents, and resists promulgated policies that supplant parental duties with state given care. Taxation from the federal government should be kept as low as possible to allow citizens and business owners keep as much from their earnings (Rice, 2013). Conservatism opposes a large state and high taxes, and this is founded on more economic considerations. It denotes that it takes a family to bring up a child, not a state or daycare program that is funded from the pockets of other families.

Conservatism adores sanctity of human life and advocates for a decrease in the wide-spread criteria of abortions on demand. In its view, true justice is served through policies that enable mothers to carry unwanted pregnancies to term, give birth and then give the babies up for adoption if not wanted by their parents. The nine inconvenience months of pregnancy are viewed as less of a price to pay for the termination of single human life and the joy linked to living for a new person (Harris, 2013). There are certain social policy areas that conflict with conservatism. To some extent, it supports death penalty as punishment for heinous acts such as murder and the use of military force. Conservatism supports free enterprises, as the most remarkable and the most effective engine for individual progress in history and thus, puts little feasible impediments and burden as being practical, in ways of growth and development of entrepreneurial enterprises. Issues such as preserving the environment and ensuring worker safety call for a federal role (Van and Vis, 2014).

Conservatism upholds providing social welfare services to the most vulnerable members of society, to intellectuals or physically challenged persons, infants, and children. Reinforcing the institution of families goes a long way to channel capital and benefits to them. This is where leadership in conservatism becomes important and is obtained by passing federal legislation such as establishing social security programs (Ellis and Stimson, 2012). It is also believed that assistance provided by family, helps from local churches and mosques, self- help or from a town or city is considered first choices in providing service where feasible. Conservatism confers commitment to authority, power, dominance, tradition, hierarchy, stability, competition, family values, national security, economic enterprise, profit, religious faith and devotion.

In conservatism, federal funds channeled towards providing welfare services should be increased to support programs based on evidence and interventions backed by credible scientific research programs with indications of their ability to assist the society or harm them. Welfare programs should be carefully tested and shown to be meaningful before implementation to help avoid premature sharing and funding of programs with no value (Nisbat et al., 2017). Welfare programs with potential and those that survive pilot testing should be under ongoing and repeated evaluation mechanisms and well-funded to ensure positive results do not deteriorate with time. It is not wise or practical to fund welfare programs based on need alone, as effectiveness and costs also need to be taken into account and consideration. Inconsistent with expectations, conservatism has been criticized for failing to mention themes such as inequality in the world, criminal justice, right of women and racism.

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Overall, having highlighted the different strands of conservatism in relation to welfare, the challenge brought forth is thus, the creation of credible policies that draw upon the conservatism principles as well as views, with an objective of boosting support in conservatism for welfare (Mishra, 2014). Policy focus of conservatism on welfare is a less well funded welfare budget and it encourages the society to work and achieve greater fairness, thereby, advocating for more innovative policies such as a contribution to supplement the universal credit, statutory maternity leave pay after the first six weeks and contributory topping up accounts.


From the discussion above, it can be concluded that conservatism treads a narrow line of what is correct according to morals and what is efficient and effective for the society and mankind. Notably, welfare state arises and exists in a regulated and privatized manner. Conservatism draws upon a wider set of views and principles, which compare to reducing the size of the state when reforming the social welfare system. It is therefore suggested that policy makers draw more on conservatism principles. Not only are the proposed policies purposing to ensure individuals benefit from a more effective and fairer welfare system, they are also likely to increase support for welfare system from conservatism.


Ellis, C., and Stimson, J. A., 2012. Ideology in America. New York: Cambrigde University Press.

Fagnani, J., 2012. Recent reforms in childcare and family policies in France and Germany: What was at stake? Children and Youth Services Review, 34(3), pp.509-516

Gamble, A., 2014. The Conservative Nation (Routlegde Revivals). Routledge.

Harris, N., 2013. Competition and the Corporate Society: British Conservatives, the state and industry 1945-1965. Routledge.

Jost, J. T., Langer, M., Badaan, V., Azevedo, F., Etchezahar, E., Ungaretti, J., and Hennes, E. 2017. Ideology and the limits of self-interest: System justification motivation and conservatism advantages in mass politics. Translational Issues in Psychological Science, 3(3), el-e26

Mishra, R., 2014. Welfare state capitalst society (Vol. 5). Routledge

Nisbet, R., 2017. Conservatism: dream and reality. Routledge

O'Sullivan, N., 2013. Conservatism. In The Oxford handbook of political ideologies. Oxford University Press (OUP)

Rice, D., 2013. Beyond welfare regimes: from empirical typology to conceptual ideal types. Social Policy & Administration, 47(1), pp.93-110.

Schwartz, Ronald. "Riverside Days: Recollection of Robert Nisbet as a Teacher." The American Sociologist 45, no. 1 (2014): 34-49.

Van Kersbergen, K. and Vis, B., 2014. Comparative welfare state politics. Cambridge University Press.

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