One of the greatest challenges for social policy in Britain has been to encompass minority ethnic groups, and in many ways it has failed to achieve this. Bochel points out that for many years social policy has been reluctant to recognize ethnic diversity, intending to be universal in character, so the issue of race has long been overlooked. This has had a significant impact on minority ethnic groups as the discrimination that they most definitely suffer in the labour market and in the community has not been properly addressed. Research has shown that men and women from ethnic minority groups are twice as likely to be unemployed as white Britons, and other social indicators echo this pattern. Ethnic minorities are also more likely to undertake low-paid, low-skilled work, and the vicious circle that stems from this – inferior housing, poorer living standards, and substandard schools in deprived areas – is actually partly caused by the welfare state system, which institutionalises this discrimination. The unique problems faced by ethnic minorities must be addressed individually, and until recently social policy has failed to do this. Furthermore, the emphasis on tackling crime that has underpinned New Labour’s social policy and that of the previous Conservative governments has impacted on ethnic minorities due to the often discriminatory nature of initiatives to cut crime. The ‘stop and search’ programme is unfairly targeted toward black youths, to the extent that many believe being black is tantamount to a social problem (McGhee, 2005). Such flaws in British social policy have undoubtedly contributed to a growing sense of isolation amongst ethnic minority groups, and thus it could be argued that social policy is often more harmful than beneficial.
Given that welfare states are normally associated with left of centre governments, and the supposed hostility of conservative right wing parties toward high levels of state intervention, the term ‘conservative welfare states’ seems somewhat of an anomaly. Nonetheless, there are definite examples of conservative states that not only refrain from fighting the welfare state but actually encourage the dependence of citizens on the government. This can be traced back to the Bismarckian ‘corporatist’ system of 19th century Germany, in which it was seen as in the interests of the state to look after the welfare of its citizens. This type of welfare state (in its extreme form) is less about reducing inequality and improving citizens lives than it is maintaining the status quo – a hierarchical system based on a culture of dependence (Esping-Anderson, 1990). Conservative welfare states are often religious and/or nationalist in nature, with a strong emphasis on family values. Epitomising such characteristics is arguably George Bush’s current reign.
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