Merriam Webster defines welfare as the statutory procedure or social effort designed to promote the basic physical and material well-being of people in need, or as the financial support given to those who are unemployed or otherwise in a state of need, whether that be healthcare or housing.

In most developed nations such as the United States and the United Kingdom, welfare is provided to people in need by the government from tax revenue. Some social services included in welfare include access to food, healthcare, unemployment benefits, and educational assistance.

However, even though the US and the UK are both highly developed nations, the way they regulate and allocate money for welfare programs is vastly different. These regulations and allocations in turn, create different sociological impacts and help to define some of the vast variances in lifestyles between the two nations.

The Key Differences Between Welfare in the United States and the United Kingdom

The biggest difference between the setup of the welfare state between the United States and the United Kingdom is size. During the last century, European nations such as the UK have built large welfare states, while the US has relied on a smaller and less generous system. On average, the US allocates about 11-19 percent of its budget on welfare assistance and benefit programs, while the UK spends more than double that, at around 35 percent.

However, since the American government does not spend the necessary funds needed for welfare programs, the social welfare system also draws from private funds such as businesses and companies. This directly contrasts the system in the UK, where welfare benefits are pretty much solely provided and controlled by the government. This distinction can be seen in the health care system. In the US, government health care dollars are typically allocated for the elderly and low-income families, whereas the middle and working-class families rely on health insurance acquired from their employer. This distinction shows that the US system is more redistributive than the system providing in the UK.

Elderly middle-class and working-class Americans are also more likely to have private pensions than those in the UK and middle-class parents have to pay for their children’s secondary education costs compared to the UK where the government pays. In general, the United Kingdom’s entire class system is more dependent on government aid than in the US, where aid is more focused on the lower-income households.

Sociological Implication of These Differences in Welfare Programs

The differences between spending and regulations on welfare programs significantly impacts the lives of all classes. Here are some of the sociological differences that have developed in response to each government’s welfare spending.

  • Work Life: One of the big sociological impacts of the difference in spending and regulation is the way that Americans and British employees work. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, the average American spends 1,783 hours a year working compared to 1,676 hours spent by the average British worker. Also, participation in the labour force is higher in the US than in the United Kingdom and the unemployment rate in America has constantly been slightly lower than that of the UK. This is because Americans must rely on private funds provided from their company for their benefits. Therefore, they need to work harder to maintain a job that will cover many of their needs.
  • Driving:Due to the money needed to fund programs in the United Kingdom, some taxes such as fuel is higher than in the United States. According to the Census Bureau, 86 percent of Americans use a car to travel to work, compared to only about 40 percent of British workers that take a private car to work. This difference can also be seen through the status of public transportation in both countries. Because of this lifestyle, there are more public transportation opportunities in the UK, and even more cyclists and green transportation methods.
  • Attitudes Towards Welfare: According to World Value Survey29 percent of Americans think that poor people are trapped in poverty, compared to 60 percent of Europeans who think the same. There is a higher percentage of Americans that believe that the poor are lazy, than people in the United Kingdom. This may be because of the allocation of funds. Everyone in the UK benefits from the government’s welfare programs, whereas in the US, it is focused on the poor. When everyone is receiving the same benefits, it makes it harder to discriminate against one faction of society. Therefore, British citizens are more willing to see the aid given to the poor as similar to their own, whereas in the United States, Americans see welfare programs as handouts. This impacts the way that people in each country react to social issues and programs that benefit those in need.
  • Conditions of Low-Income Families on Welfare: Welfare conditions in the United States are far higher than those in the United Kingdom. This is likely because even though there is less money invested by the government, more money can be allocated to low-income families because it is solely used to help these families. According to the Census Bureau and government reports, 80 percent of poor households in the US have air conditioning, two-thirds have cable or satellite television, 43 percent have access to the Internet, and about half have a personal computer. Air conditioning is not a typical feature in any British home, and only 28 percent of British households in general have home televisions. So this shows that the redistributive property of the US welfare programs allow a higher standard of life for the poor and the entire class system in general.

The differences in social welfare programs between the United States and the United Kingdom have a huge impact on many of the social differences between the two countries. It explains some of the reasons why despite being two closely developed nations, the people of the country lead two very different lives.