Definitions of social welfare :

Dolgoff,R. & D.Feldstein (1980) Understanding Social Welfare, P.91:

“In its narrowest sense, social welfare includes those nonprofit functions of society, public or voluntary, which are clearly aimed at alleviating distress and poverty or at ameliorating the conditions of the casualties of society.” 

Dolgoff,R., D.Feldstein & L. Stolnik (1997) Understanding Social Welfare,4th ed. P.5:

“All social interventions intended to enhance or maintain the social functioning of human beings.” 

National Association of Social Workers, Encyclopedia of Social Work Vol.II. 1971, p.1446:

“Social welfare generally denotes the full range of organized activities of voluntary and governmental agencies that seek to prevent, alleviate, or contribute to the solution of recognized social problems, or to improve the well-being of individuals, groups, or communities.”

United Nations 1967:

“Social welfare as an organized function is regarded as a body of activities designed to enable individuals, families, groups and communities to cope with the social problems of changing conditions. But in addition to and extending beyond the range of its responsibilities for specific services, social welfare has a further function within the broad area of a country’s social development. In this larger sense, social welfare should play a major role in contributing to the effective mobilization and deployment of human and material resources of the country to deal successfully with the social requirements of change, thereby participating in nation-building.”

Hong Kong Government 1965 White Paper:

“Social welfare services, in common with education, medical, housing and other parallel services, form a part of the social services which most developed communities have come to require and expect …Social welfare services are required by those who are not capable without help and support of standing on their own feet as fully independent or ‘self-directing’ members of the community.” 

Hong Kong Government 1979 White Paper:

“Used in its broadest sense the term ‘social welfare’ can embrace all efforts aimed at improving health, education, employment, housing, recreational and cultural services for the community at large. However, for the purpose of the White Paper, ‘social welfare‘ will be used in a narrower sense as the range of services provided by Social Welfare Department and the voluntary welfare sector.” 

Hong Kong Government 1991 White Paper:

Social welfare embraces laws, programmes, benefits and services which address social needs accepted as essential to the well-being of a society. It focuses on personal and social problems, both existing and potential.

Hong Kong Government “The Five Year Plan for Social Welfare Development in Hong Kong – Review 1998” by Social Welfare Department, p.3:

“Social welfare (in HK) embraces laws, programmes, benefits and services which address social needs accepted as essential to the well-being of a society. It focuses on personal and social problems, both existing and potential. It also plays an important developmental role by providing an organized system of services and institutions which are designed to aid individuals and groups to achieve satisfying roles in life and personal relationships which permit them to develop their full capacities and to promote their well0being in harmony with the needs and aspirations of their families and the community.”

Nature of Social Welfare:


  1. It is ONE of the 5 SYSTEMS OF SOCIAL SERVICES in modern industrial societies:
  • Social welfare is conceived in a broad sense, which is also called “social service” which includes

1) education, 2) medical & health, 3) housing, 4) income maintenance, and 5) personal welfare.

  • “Social welfare” if defined in a narrow sense refers to ‘personal welfare’.


  • substituting functions of extended family and kinship system; – provides affectional, developmental, socialization, rehabilitative needs;
  • facilitating economic growth – human resource development (e.g. by education); producing vs consuming society resources;
  • sustaining individuals in periods of dependency (e.g. sickness, disability, maternity, retirement, unemployment,);

Development of welfare state in post-war European countries Britain as illustration:

  • 1942 Beveridge Report paved the way for welfare reform — i.e. increasing government role in welfare provision;
  • post-war Keynesian economic theory dominated – state intervention in economy to boost demand;
  • closely related to economic, political and socio-cultural development of society.
  1. Models of welfare:


1) remedial: removing disabling conditions, regaining normal functioning; needy groups, under-privileged sector in society, minimum standard of service provision, emergency relief, ad hoc basis, remedy gross hardships and human sufferings, minimum state intervention, private and family care, alleviate abnormalities, short-term basis; also related to residual services;

2) preventive: early prevent abnormal behaviour and conditions; creating new conditions; eliminate causes of problems, research analysis on causes for effective prevention, prevention is better than cure, screening service, early identification, systematic planning, universal services…etc.;

3) developmental: improving situations, development of individual and society, constructive planning, social investment, awareness on social responsibility, develop potentials and new capacities, growth towards mature and responsible citizenship;

4) supportive: achieving objectives of other sectors in society; mutual benefits among various services and clienteles, support services, education and continuous training, community support; inter-related nature of various social policies; better effectiveness and efficiency, economy;

functions or emphasis of welfare is largely determined by philosophy and value preferences of the government, social and political situation and economic affordability, inter-related functions of services, complementary roles of services at different levels;

5 . it can have different levels of COVERAGE:

  • from the poor and most needy to all citizens, in different socio-economic strata;
  • from almsgiving, charity to social development in general;
  • from particular to general; from selective to universal;
  1. different TYPES/ CLASSIFICATION: (narrow vs broad conception)
  • individual, personal; fiscal; occupational; social (including all 5 systems of social services);
  • classification by role/ functions: (above) :* range from “revolutionary” to “social control” role;
  • classification by targets: elderly, youth, family, disabled, offenders, communities, women, adults…..etc.;
  • classification by objectives:
  1. achieve optimal income security, income redistribution in society;
  2. provide basic need like housing, health, material needs, education, environmental quality, safety,;
  3. guarantee social rights, social functioning;

Characteristics of social welfare programmes:

  1. serve community interests – derived from community need assessment, service design to satisfy such needs;
  2. value-based – e.g. human rights, citizen responsibility, social justice, prosperity, stability, equity,….etc.;
  3. non-market activities – not directly capital generating, not subject to purely market mechanism/ dynamics (i.e. demand and supply), depends on donation, subsidy, fee charging; [but more recent theories suggest that welfare can also be operated in a ‘mixed market’ mode]
  4. accessible to all – citizen right, efficient service delivery system, equal opportunity;
  5. accountable to public – effective public and social administration, professional code of practice;

Wilensky & Lebeaux:

5 features of social welfare:

  1. organization – delivered through organizations (govt & NGOs);
  2. social sponsorship & accountability – service providers answerable to funding sources (govt & donations), to provide quality service;
  3. non-profit motive [ though sometimes fee-charging ];
  4. functional generalization: – to meet different aspects of society need;
  5. direct focus on human consumption (e.g. housing, medical service, etc.)
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