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What is the Welfare System?

The welfare system - or welfare state - has been a hot topic across UK politics for decades. It has been described by some as a 'hand-up', whilst others see it as more of a 'hand-out'. But what, precisely, does the UK's welfare system entail?

For this week's blog, we'll explore the different types of assistance available for UK Citizens and, more importantly, what that might mean for you and your family.

What is the welfare state?

The welfare system is a series of financial provisions set out by the UK government as a safety-net for struggling citizens: in other words, if you're experiencing financial hardship for any reason, there are measures in place to ensure that you have food and shelter.

As a whole, the system is designed to improve the health, education, social security and employment of all those who live in Great Britain, no matter their age.

How did it come about?

The system as we now know it came about in the first half of the 20th Century. Before this, those who suffered the plight of poverty - be it due to family size, illness, unemployment or personal tragedy - didn't have much support at all.

In the 1800s, a number of Poor Laws were drawn up to set out how the state and local authorities may assist the financially destitute. These provisions, however, were incredibly basic. They were often dependent on the judgement of social circumstances, and were subsequently quite discriminatory to women, people with mental illness and the physically disabled. 'Out-door' relief was offered in the form of a small sum or food as immediate support against malnutrition and life on the streets, whilst 'Indoor' relief was offered in the form of an extended stay in the prison-like workhouse - a place so abhorred by the poor that many preferred to take their chances begging or sleeping in doorways.

After the two world wars, and with the establishment of the National Health Service (NHS) social reformers and members of parliament began to recognise the need to provide a far more comprehensive support package. In the years that followed, this grew into initiatives such as:

  • council housing - low cost, safe and regulated dwellings for the most needy individuals and families

  • child benefit - to support families in need of food, clothes and school equipment

  • disability benefit - for those who are too ill to work, or unable to work due to a physical or mental impairment

  • old-age pensions and pension credit - supplements to pensions for older and retired people, allowing them to live more comfortably if their pension is small

And much more.

What does it mean for those living in the UK?

Having a welfare system in place allows the UK government and local councils to look after those who are vulnerable to poverty, such as disabled people and the elderly.

It's also useful as short-term support, particularly during times of economic crisis. During the ongoing COVID-19 Crisis, millions of Britons have found themselves either out of work, or working on reduced pay. To help ease this financial burden, the government has responded by setting up a number of schemes, the job retention scheme, which has provided businesses with much-needed cash so they may continue to pay 80% (or more) of their employee's wages.

Furthermore, those seeking work or struggling to pay the bills due to a lack of employment are welcomed to apply for extra financial help, such as job seeker's allowance, universal credit or housing benefit. Whilst these benefits are thoroughly means tested - and therefore tricky to claim if you have savings or earn above a certain amount - they are readily available to those who need it most.

How might an immigrant benefit?

If you've recently migrated to the UK and have fallen upon financial difficulty, you may well be eligible for assistance. The type of benefit you are entitled to, however, does depend on how long you've been residing in the UK.

For example, you can claim universal credit (a small regular sum to top up your pay) if you're classed as 'habitually resident' in the UK, Ireland, Channel Islands or Isle of Man. Habitual residence means you're settled here for the foreseeable future, and either you've not lived abroad in the last 2 years or you've been deported back to the UK from another country.

Aside from this, most immigrants with indefinite leave to remain (ILR) can enjoy the same perks as UK citizens, including access to things like housing and child benefit. However, If you are a third country national (a national of a non-EU country) with limited leave, however, you generally won’t be able to receive any benefits until your two-year probationary period ends.

If you need more information on what emergency aid could be available to you and your family once you get to the UK, check out this website. For more details on the types of help on offer, UK.GOV has all the information you need.

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