The Term ‘Welfare State’ is continually described as government action in the field of personal and family income assistance, health care, housing, education, training and personal care services. However the level of commitment of government to serve welfare needs of different social groups depends on its political ideology and availability of resources.

A Welfare State is one in which the government undertakes large-scale action to ensure the provision of social goods and benefits. These welfare programs are usually provided at public expense with little or no cost to the recipient of the services. Policy prescriptions advanced by proponents of the welfare-state emphasize securing a minimum standard of living for all citizens where no one is denied an essential service which might be available to others; the production of social goods and services; the control of the business cycle; and the manipulation of total output to allow for social costs and revenues. Among the instruments of the modern welfare state are progressive taxes, social security, unemployment insurance, agricultural subsidies, and government-subsidized housing programs.

Many socioeconomic studies illustrate that welfare systems are an integral part of all political regimes once they reach a certain level of economic development, thus indicating the correlation between welfare-state development and economic and demographic growth independent of a state’s political system. Different states employ a variety of welfare programs, but the essence of the welfare state is similar across countries and political regimes: “government-protected minimum standards of income, nutrition, health and safety, education, and housing assured to every citizen as a social right (Wilensky and others).”

The origins of Sri Lanka welfare state can be traced back to the pre-independence period between the 1920s and 1942 in which the British government developed social development policies relating to labor welfare for the Indian estate workers and poverty alleviation measures including a food subsidy for the entire population adult universal franchise. The 1950-1977 era introduced a new package of social services and social welfare for the benefit of selected target groups in the urban and rural areas notably, subsidized transport, housing for the poorest groups, welfare services for children and rural development schemes such as colonization and land settlement schemes. During the post 1977 up to 1994 period social services like food stamps were abandoned and schemes such as low-cost housing, water supply, health care, sanitation and electricity were adopted. The UNP Government promoted a system of privatized social welfare encouraging private sector contribution to social welfare.

The Open University of Sri Lanka – Department of Social Studies BA Degree Program in Social Sciences – 2003/2004

Student Registration No: 40231572


Social policies of the government are formulated to solve important social problems such as poverty, poor health care, illiteracy, etc. Public policies can be legislations (acts, ordinances, rules, guidelines, common decisions etc.) which direct the specific course of action of the government. They are also deliberate attempts made by governments to improve living conditions of the total population or some target groups. The following provides an example of social policy.

There are hundreds and thousands of public policy documents such as acts, ordinances and even government circulars. For example, Sri Lanka has a large number of ordinances and acts as legal documents designed to provide a wide range of social services and welfare.

The study of social policy involves at least three basic elements (Ginsberg, 1992)

  1. The origin of social policy – the objective is to study the political, economic and social pressures, agencies or groups which push the government into formulation of social policies. We can document the process through which individuals, groups or political parties identify important social problems and seek solutions. In response to the need for solutions to these social problems government designs social policies and prepare programs. For example, trade unions in Sri Lanka after independence had negotiated with the ruling political parties for occupational welfare such as salary increases, better working conditions, fringe benefits, etc. Similarly a variety of organized groups, social movements, interest groups etc. are in the forefront for introducing or changing the policies of social development in a country.
  2. The substance of social policy – This refers to the aims and objectives of social policy, finances, rules and regulations and administration. In other words the substance of social policy tells you its rationale, ideology, expenditure, beneficiaries and activities associated with policy implementation and administration.
  3. Impacts of social policy – The third element is the nature and types of impacts of policies on the target group beneficiaries in terms of improvements of the expected living conditions. What are the indicators used to measure such impacts?

Social policies directed toward the welfare of citizens can be divided into two areas of social services and social welfare.

The Open University of Sri Lanka – Department of Social Studies BA Degree Program in Social Sciences – 2003/2004

Student Registration No: 40231572


Social work is a profession devoted to positive social change and helping individuals, families, and groups to better resolve personal problems. The expansion of human service programs and areas of practice utilizing social work knowledge and skills has created a demand for professional social workers.

Yes, the meaning of social worker itself could be interpreted simply as a person who carries out needy functions to benefit members of the society and if the social worker is professionally qualified and skilled then certainly the services he can provide will be more effective, needless to say. Therefore if the social worker is professionally qualified and skilled thereby learning the time-tested and proven methods formerly arrived by other professional in the field through research, indeed he could carry out his work effectively, this being a profession concerned with promoting the well-being of people including individuals, families, groups and organizations and communities to achieve life enhancing goals with emphasis on the advancement of economic and social justice.

In addition to the academic expectations, social work students are expected to demonstrate professional behavior which reflects a commitment to the ethics of the social work profession.

The role of the social worker involves helping people from a variety of backgrounds and with a range of problems, so it is important that the social work student not permit personal issues to interfere with this role and that the student have the emotional and psychological resources to render effective assistance to those in need.

By promoting professionalism in social work, the four major purposes of the social work profession could be effectively achieved –

1. The promotion, restoration, maintenance, and enhancement of the functioning of individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities by helping them to accomplish tasks, prevent and alleviate distress, and use resources.

2. The planning, formulation, and implementation of social policies, services, resources, and programs needed to meet basic human needs and support the development of human capacities.

3. The pursuit of policies, services, resources and programs through organizational or administrative advocacy and social or political action to empower groups at risk and to promote social and economic justice.

4. The development and testing of professional knowledge and skills related to these purposes.

The Open University of Sri Lanka -Department of Social Studies BA Degree Program in Social Sciences – 2003/2004

Student Registration No: 40231572

Social work seeks to assist individuals, groups and communities to reach the highest possible degree of social, mental and physical well-being. The methods that social work (working with individuals, traditionally known as case work, groups work, and community organization) are applied to achieve this goal differ from those of other professions such as medicine, law, teaching or nursing. Because social work operates in consideration of all social, economic, and psychological factors that influence the life of the individual; the family, the social group, and the community. The other professionals, although they assume the duty of promoting the well-being and respecting the confidence of the individual whom they serve, focus their services upon one specific aspect of the personal needs involved.

Social worker cannot exclude any aspect of the life of the individuals with whom he works or any social conditions that exists in the community where he operates. This approach of social work is known as ‘dualistic’. Thus the aim of social work is not only to help individual, family or community, but it is also concerned with the improvement of general social conditions by raising health and economic standards, advocating better housing and working conditions, and supporting constructive social legislation.

The goal of social worker is to prevent, or at least to alleviate, the socially and psychologically damaging effects of crisis situation and social injustice on one hand and to remove barriers to the healthy development of individuals, groups and communities on the other. In other words social work is directed toward the realization of democracy. The social work practice, at least in theory, is inspired by the democratic value i.e. dignity of the individual, right of self-determination, equal opportunity for all, limited only by the individual’s capacities, and social responsibility toward oneself, family and community.

Social Welfare – Social Welfare Services are provided to the people who are encountering a problem and needs outside help in resolving it. Traditionally such persons, families or communities are conceived as individuals whose ability to interact socially with others or to cope with his environment has been impaired due to some personality defect or some disorganization in his surroundings. Hence the functions of social welfare were then categorized as Remedial and Preventive and also Developmental Social Welfare.

Comparing Related OccupationsHow does social work differ from such related field such as sociology, psychology, psychiatry and rehabilitation counseling?

  • Sociology – Although they need to study sociology, social workers are expected to apply their knowledge to working with people to solve problems. Sociology normally teaches students to observe and to do research on social problems, but it is social work that teaches interpersonal skills and techniques and that provides an analytical approach to problem solving. Sociologists with advanced degrees often apply their education by doing research and teaching.
  • Psychology – Psychologists study individuals and try to understand how they develop as they do and the important factors that influence a person’s mind behaviors. They draw much of their information from biology, because the individual’s genetic makeup is such a powerful influence on characteristics of mind and behavior. Many psychologists study perception and learning in the laboratory setting and try to understand the inner workings of the mind through experimental means.

The Open University of Sri Lanka – Department of Social Studies BA Degree Program in Social Sciences – 2003/2004

Student Registration No: 40231572

Like sociologists, many psychologists spend their careers doing research, testing theory, and teaching. One branch of psychology is Applied Sociology, so that many psychologists also counsel individuals and families and conduct IQ tests, personality tests, and the like. Psychologists who wish to specialize in psychotherapy usually earn a doctorate degree.

Social workers must study both sociology and psychology because social workers are systems oriented.

  • Psychiatry – Psychiatry is also related to social work. Psychiatry’s primary focus of study is inner development, what makes individuals think, feel, and behave as they do. The aspiring psychiatrist must first earn a degree in medicine and then goes on to specialize in psychiatry in a postdoctoral internship. Psychiatrists have the special perspective provided by in-depth understanding of human anatomy and physiology, and they can prescribe medications such as tranquilizers and antidepressants for their parents when appropriate. Psychologists and social workers, on the other hand, must refer their clients to a medical doctor, ideally a psychiatrist, if they believe medications are needed.
  • Rehabilitation Counseling – The rehabilitation counselor works with people who experience various disabilities – physical, mental or emotional. For example, the person who is unfortunate enough to lose a limb in an industrial accident might qualify for vocational rehabilitation, as might a person who has mental retardation, or who has lost a job because of alcoholism or mental illness. The counselor usually achieves his or her position by earning a master’s degree in that specialty. Rehabilitation counselors bring more specialized training in medically handicapping conditions and in rehabilitation to the job, so that, if available, they probably would be the prospective employer’s first choice. Unlike the social worker, however, the counselor’s work is limited by training to work in the rehabilitation field. The social worker, by contrast, may change fields (for example, from working with people with disabilities to working with the elderly) and has the basic professional qualifications for employment with a variety of populations.

Social workers are extensively trained in psychology and family systems. Consideration of the patient, the family, and social circumstances are necessary to provide complete overall care. The core tasks of the social worker include assessment and intervention. A social worker needs to understand the needs of struggling families, the helplessness of the abused and neglected, as well as the isolation felt by those with developmental disabilities and mental illnesses. Because of this understanding, the worker is able to be dedicated to strengthening society by assisting those who need it most.

Therefore if a social worker can get the maximum education or training as a social worker, the society would benefit immensely from the resulting expertise.



Department of Social Studies, Open University of Sri Lanka: Publication on Social Work and Social Welfare


Ginsberg, Norman, Professor: A Critical Introduction to Comparative Social Policy (1992)

Wilensky et al: Socioeconomics Studies