After 25 years of expansion and liberalisation in the post-war
period, social security policies in industrial countries have been
encountering stresses and strains in the 1970s and 1980s in an
environment of slower economic growth, concern over inflation and
high unemployment. This has led to intensified controversy between
conservatives, who blame economic instability on the generosity of
the welfare state and liberals who defend the role of social
security programmes in contributing to economic stability and
preventing people from falling into poverty. The discussion focuses
on questions such as the relative merits of earnings-related,
income-tested and universal benefits; who bears the financial
burden; and the impact of social security benefits on incentives to
work. Among the controversial issues receiving considerable
attention are the arguments over the persistence of high
unemployment in Western Europe, the attacks on 'entitlements' that
benefit the middle class and the growing problem of disadvantaged
youth, especially in the ghetto areas of large cities in some of
the Western European countries and in the United States.
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