Special Articles / Ashok Antony D'Souza / Social Development through Social Work
The concept of social development has a long history. We shall try to understand its historical progress in the Western world first and then in the Indian context.
History of Social Development in the West
The idea of social development has been part of western social thought for more than 2500 years. However, the need for Social Development was realized and discussed in the wake of myriad problems experienced by vulnerable communities in the era of industrialization and urbanization which were the inevitable part of the developmental agenda known popularly as ‘modernization’.
England was the first European country to come under the spell of industrialisation. As a consequence, it took the lead in modern institutions like democracy and a modern representative state system. England also had a long tradition of charity. These features placed England at the centre of any debate on welfare state.
Elizabethan Poor Laws
The European experience has been heavily influenced by the experience of Britain which has had a long history of public assistance to the poor and private charity. The poor were in earlier times wards of the Church but by Elizabethan period in the sixteenth century laws were enacted to establish a national system of relief that provided legal and compulsory help to the poor. The Poor Laws were codified in 1597-1598 and reenacted in 1601. Under these laws the parish became the basic unit of administration to manage relief work. A compulsory tax was imposed on each household and this money was used to provide relief to the aged, the infirm but not to the ‘sturdy beggar’.
Under Elizabethan Poor Laws, able-bodied poor were punished. Social reformers and social legislation was concerned with discouraging dependence on charity that would lead to idleness. They did this through forced work or punishments such as whipping. The principle that the poor laws were based on was ‘work for those that will labour, punishment for those that will not, and bread for those who cannot.’
In economic thought the idle poor also represented an intolerable drain on the wealth of the nation and consequently many schemes were devised to put them to work. Reformers wrote about workhouses and labour camps and the condition in the workhouses was designed to be worse than outside.
It was this background that put England far ahead of the other European states in its concern and policies for the poor. Many travellers were impressed and wrote glowingly of these polices. Benjamin Franklin came to England in 1766 and praised the way England looked after her poor but he also raised the question that was much debated in contemporary England, and which continues to evoke a debate even today. He wrote, “There is no country in the world where so many provisions are established for them [the poor]; hospitals, almshouses, a tax for the support of the poor…In short, you offered a premium for the encouragement of idleness, and you should not now wonder that it has had its effect in the increase of poverty”.
He was astonished because he saw England as a developed, prosperous country, the very “Eden of modern civilisation” and noted that other European countries were poorer and the poor in England rich compared to the European poor but English poverty was of a different type. This poverty amidst plenty had nothing to do with subsistence but for the English “the lack of a multitude of things causes poverty”. This was, he wrote, also accompanied by a commitment to alleviate poverty for ‘society believes itself bound to come to the aid of those who lack them. These changes brought about a more reasoned and systematic form of social action to mitigate poverty. It transformed what was private charity given out of a moral duty into a legal obligation.
From Organized Charity to Social Policies
Economic development as well as social dislocation marked the capitalist transformation of the world between 1750 and 1850. In this situation ideas about relief and charity also began to change. The reform sentiment that gathered momentum during this period effected a range of social policies but perhaps the movement against slavery was the most dramatic of these. Electoral reforms allowed greater participation and in turn parliament was made more sensitive to popular opinion and became the vehicle for realising social legislation. The reforms of 1834 set up a Central Poor Commission to supervise the administration of poor relief that had become inefficient and corrupt. The able-bodied poor were kept out of relief system through the workhouse test since conditions in the workhouse were always harsher than outside. Yet these reforms did establish a system that carried social legislation further by regulating hours and conditions of work in factories and mines.
Concern for public health had become particularly necessary because of the cholera epidemics of 1831-3 and 1847-8 but the untiring efforts of Edwin Chadwick were equally important for a better organisation of urban life. An Act of 1848 established a central board of health on the lines of the Poor Law Commissioners that had the power to establish local boards. Other Acts enforced regulations governing education, prison conditions, and working conditions for children and women. The New Poor Laws gave rise to intense debates that centre around a distinction between the poor and the pauper. The laws it was argued was ‘pauperising the poor’. This was because the laws gave an allowance to the poor. The funds for this allowance were generated through extra rates levied on tax payers. It was argued that not only did this work as a disincentive to work but it drove wages down, led to a fall in productivity, and was a burden on those who paid the extra rates but did not benefit from it. Because of this burden these people were driven to swell the ranks of unemployed agricultural labour.
The question of who are the poor was central to much of the debates and proposals for social legislation. At the end of the eighteenth century Edmund Burke had objected to the phrase ‘labouring poor’ arguing that there were ‘labouring poor’ who worked for their subsistence and the ‘poor’ who were the sick, infirm, or those orphaned in their infancy or incapacitated by old age. The Church had given alms regardless of whether the recipient laboured or not as did the Elizabethan poor laws. It was John Malthus who introduced an idea of ambiguity. Malthus argued against the idea that an expanding industrial economy would produce sufficient wealth to provide for the ‘happiness and comfort of the lower orders of society’. Industrial growth would lead to a growth in population but agricultural production would not rise leading to a worsening of conditions for those struggling for subsistence. Any relief given to these paupers would increase their population and consequently worsen the situation as there would be a decrease in food available for the entire poor population. The only way to break out of this vicious cycle was through the exercise of ‘moral restraint’.
It was this type of thinking that supported and sustained programmes of social amelioration and created a division among social reformers. It was this thinking and these debates that are reflected in Disraeli’s comment that in England now “Poverty is a crime” or in Thomas Carlyle’s statement that these laws put a ‘bounty on unthrift, idleness, dastardly and beer drinking.’
Social Development as a Social Obligation
The debates however, also had a positive effect as they shifted concerns from poverty narrowly defined to larger issues of the obligations of state and society, of the causes of social inequality, the basis of law and obligation. Thinkers such as Karl Marx and Friedrich Engles argued that inequities in the system could only be changed through revolutionary change that would give the full value of his labour to the worker, others sought to return to the old community based systems that had disintegrated and some others sought to bring about legal restrictions that would regulate factory work, public health and mitigate the effects of early industrialization.
As the general condition of the working class began to improve the stigma attached to poverty began to change and disappear. It was now narrowly focused on the urban vagrant whom Henry Mayhew characterised as the ‘peculiar poor’ marked by a ‘distinctive moral physiognomy’. This differentiation of the poor was taken further by Charles Booth who through careful household surveys, (published as Life and Labour of the People of London between 1889-1903 in 14 volumes) made a distinction between the very poor (paupers, street folk) and the comfortable working class. He drew a poverty line and laid the basis for providing social legislation to help this category of deserving poor and they benefited from subsequent legislation such as the Old Age Pensions Act of 1898 or the National Insurance Act of 1911.
Poverty and its relief were now transformed into a social problem that required a different approach. It was no longer a matter of providing relief but services and these not just to a particular group of people but to all citizens. Moreover, these were not the bare minimum required but would soon be set at what the 1945 Labour Party manifesto called the ‘optimum standard’. Comprehensive social legislation was made a reality with the Liberal party in 1905 under the leadership of the younger generations of liberals, Herbert Asquith, David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill and the pressure of trade unions. They were committed to waging a war against misery and squalor. Under their leadership an impressive array of legislation was enacted: Workers Compensation Act (1906), Old Age Pension Laws (1908), Trade Board Acts (1909) that was empowered to set up special commissions to fix a minimum wage for workers. The National Insurance Act (1911) which was a contributory scheme for all workers was modeled on Bismarck’s scheme of 1883-9 and made friendly societies and trade unions ‘approved societies’ to administer the scheme reflecting the cooperation between state and voluntary bodies.
Similarly measures for town planning were influenced by German laws and the Education Act of 1902 was an attempt to catch up with the German and French systems that were far more advanced.
The Liberals also enacted laws to clear slums and build proper houses for the poor in 1909. This aside from improving living conditions also fuelled a construction boom in the coming years. Lloyd George’s proposed budget of 1909 which was defeated in the House of Lords was written reflecting this new philosophy of welfare. He provided for an increase in income tax as well as a super tax on the incomes of the rich. He proposed to confiscate 20 per cent from unearned increment of land values as well as levied a heavy tax on undeveloped land. These revenues were to be used for old age pensions as well as other forms of social insurance. They would also go towards changing the social structure by breaking the monopoly of the rich nobility. There were many big landowners among the nobility, for instance the Duke of Westminster owned over 600 acres in London at this time. Though defeated the Liberals managed to enact many of these measures when they came back to power in 1910.
The post war years influenced by the economic crisis and unemployment before the war and this sense of crisis during the war fuelled the resurgence of left wing movements all over Europe. People increasingly demanded that the state had an obligation to secure the well being of its citizens. In 1942 Sir William Beveridge’s Report on Social Insurance and Allied Services (1942) laid out a practical plan for a comprehensive public protection of the individual. It was on the basis of this that the Labour government of 1945 enacted laws that ended the old poor law system and created a social security system that brought together earlier elements as well as allowed for voluntary schemes as well. Education had been reorganized through the Butler Act of 1944 and in 1945 a system of family allowances was started.
Diversity in Approaches
The path to Social Development through social policy and planning did not follow a uniform pattern in all the countries of the Western world. In Germany and Japan social legislation became a vital element in the policy of social control. In this welfare legislation was a way of strengthening national power. However, the general democratization of politics and greater political participation through the electoral process changed the forms of social control and placed greater reliance on internalized moral and cultural mechanisms. Relief and charity expanded and were transformed through social legislation that sought to provide for the needs of all its citizens from ‘cradle to grave’.
The World Summit on Social Development held in Copenhagen in 1995 come out with a declaration in which ten commitments were made by the participating world leaders. This includes, eradicate absolute poverty, support full employment, promote social integration based on the enhancement and protection of all human rights; achieve equality between men and women, accelerate the development of Africa and the least developed countries, ensure that structural adjustment programmes include social development goals, increase resources allocation to social development, create an economic, political, social, cultural, and legal environment, that will enable people to achieve social development, attain universal and equitable access to education and primary health care and strengthen cooperation for social development through the UN.
History of Social Development in India
Even in India the ideas to initiate social change in the social fabric of society in rudimentary form could be even traced from the Buddhist period. And later on the different attempts were done to improve the flight of especially weak, downtrodden, and exploited class of the society (Bhattacharya, 2003). Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of development was in the form of rural development as goal of Sarvodaya i.e. Welfare of All or Samagra Gram Seva. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar on the other hand stressed the need for social and economic redistribution of resources in favour of equality and justice and argued in favour of affirmative action to correct the injustice perpetuated in the name of superiority and purity of certain castes.
At the time of Independence from colonial rule in the mid twentieth century, there was broad social consensus in India on the role of the state as a crucial player in the development process. State led capitalism and state intervention in various ways were seen as essential instruments for the development of a relatively autonomous Indian capitalism, displacing metropolitan capital from the pre-eminent position it had occupied in the colonial economy. The economic policy regime that was erected in the 1950s had its roots in the nationalist freedom struggle, which emphasized that freedom meant freedom not only from political control, but also from external economic domination. It was felt that this could not be ensured without giving the state in independent India a major role in building up infrastructure, expanding and strengthening the productive base of the economy, setting up new financial institutions and regulating and coordinating economic activity. This was recognized to be necessary for building capitalism itself, though some no doubt entertained the fond hope that all this would add up to an eventual transition to socialism.
However, there were a number of features of India’s post-Independence growth strategy that structurally limited the potential of the economic system to expand in a sustainable manner. Many of these features, which stemmed from the political economy of class configurations at the time, contributed in turn to the specific manner in which the development process unfolded and to the limitations of social policy in accelerating the process of development. The most significant such feature was the inability of the Indian state in general to address the most basic form of inequality in the country, that over the ownership and control over land. Despite the overt declarations regarding the need for land reforms and for curbing the concentration of economic power, relatively little was done to attack or redress asset and income inequality. Similarly, while some monopolistic practices were curbed, private asset concentration in the industrial sector was never really challenged. In fact, state intervention became yet another mechanism for existing monopolists to consolidate their positions.
One consequence of the associated persistence of asset and income inequality was that there were definite limits to the expansion of the market for mass consumption goods in the country. This in turn meant that employment and income growth in the private sector was limited. The absence of any radical land redistribution meant that the domestic market, especially for manufactured goods, remained socially narrowly based. It also meant that the growth of agricultural output, though far greater than in the colonial period, remained well below potential.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the scope of social policy, focused on delivery of limited services and welfare, was insufficient to achieve balanced social and economic development. Social policy was considered residual, secondary to the focus on growth as then mainstream development theory focused on “economic growth first”. As such, social policy was given lesser importance and funding, and often was centred on mitigating the unintended consequences of economic change.
This residual approach was dominant for about two decades, and led to increasing social tensions and malaise. For example, after the attainment of independence in 1947, the formation of planning commission and the launch of Five Year Plans was initiated. In 1952 A massive programme of Community Development and National Extension Service programmes were started for the development of rural communities in India. The system of panchayat raj were introduced in order to give power to the people at the grass- root level and enable them to take decision in their own interest. The land reform measures introduced to protect the interest poor, small and marginalized farmers. The central social welfare board stated in the year 1953 to help non government organizations the financial benefits to undertake various programmes of social welfare. Further in subsequent plan period the programmes of nation development to improve quality of human life in different spectrum attempted by enacting social and labour legislations. In 1975, the twenty point programme, IRDP programme and even many other programmes were started to improve the living conditions of people. The programme of achieve near full employment, eliminate poverty, satisfaction of basic need like food, clothing, shelter, and provide health for all by 2000 were the activities parts of Seventh Five Year Plan between 1985-1990.
After having been pared to a minimum, social policies were reconsidered during the 1990s with the renewed attention of development policies to poverty reduction. Even then, social policies were treated as marginal, reduced to little more than the idea of social safety nets in times of economic crisis as in the Asian Financial Crisis and the extension of basic education elsewhere, often left to donor -funded social investment programmes. These were well-intentioned initiatives by committed professionals but not adequate as lasting solutions. These interventions did not address the structural causes of social tensions or build institutions to ensure equitable and sustainable development, decent work and social cohesion.
A considerable amount of recent research shows that economic growth and social development policies must be pursued simultaneously, rather than sequentially, as:
This change from a time when charity and relief provided by the family, community or Church to social welfare is seen as the process by which the modern Western European State has progressed and this history is inextricably linked with the creation of a modern sensibility. In the pre-modern period, it is argued, the individual could only appeal to the Church or religious groups, family or the community when faced with poverty or illness and the causes of poverty were often seen either in fate or in individual failure. Communities or individuals in distress could then appeal to the charity or benevolence of the rulers or that of their family or community.
There is now a consensus on the urgency to promote robust social and economic policies in parallel, in a complementary and mutually reinforcing manner. Economic growth permits sustained investments in social development; and human development raises the capacities of people to contribute to growth. Sustainable growth and poverty reduction require socially inclusive National Development Strategies.
In the early 21st century, a consensus has emerged that social policy is part of the primary function of the state, and that social policy is more than a limited set of safety nets and services to cover market failure. Well-designed and implemented social policies can powerfully shape countries, foster employment and development, eradicate marginalization and overcome conflict. They are an essential part of any National Development Strategy to achieve growth and equitable social outcomes. Thus, we can say that India’s social policy has attempted to emphasize socio-cultural development and not merely on economic development.
Relevance of Social Development to Contemporary Context
Social policy is also necessary in a globalizing world. The extreme inequality in the world distribution of income and assets seriously undermines the effectiveness of global growth in reducing poverty. The magnitude of distribution asymmetries is significant. In 2000, the richest 1 per cent of adults alone owned 40 per cent of global assets, and the richest 10 per cent of adults accounted for 85 per cent of total world assets. In contrast, the bottom half of the world adult population owned barely 1 per cent of global wealth. This urgent need to reduce poverty, exclusion and conflict has brought social policy to the forefront of the development agenda.
There is a real need for strengthening the ‘inclusive perspective’ to professional social work education and practice in India. Even though the entire philosophy and practice of professional social work, right from its inception, has been addressing issues of marginalization, alienation, oppression and various forms of social exclusion and its resultant detrimental effects on vulnerable and affected groups, there is not much of concentration, in the professional training and practice in India, on the theoretical constructs of ‘social exclusion’, ‘inclusion’ and related concepts such as ‘inclusive development’ or ‘inclusive growth’ besides the policy issues. It is highly imperative that social work education and training have to be geared to consciously and comprehensively address social exclusion, inclusive policy and related issues with the ultimate objective of enabling ‘professional social workers’ to get a proper understanding and develop genuine appreciation of the need for an ‘inclusive perspective’ to the professional domains of training, practice and research in the field of social work. For this, the first and foremost requirement is that social workers, whether budding or full-fledged, should develop an ‘inclusive mindset’ in its real sense.
The questions that were raised when these policies were initially formulated still remain, namely, does state support lead to dependence and loss of initiative, are the financial costs placing an unacceptable burden on those who do not benefit from these policies, and do entitlements or reservations create special interest groups. These questions are still with us and are far from resolved, one way or the other. Even though we do not have the answer, we at least know that these questions are important even today and will continue to attract attention so long as economic disparities persist in the world.
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