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Welfare and Equality: Richard Titmuss’ Theories Essay

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Updated: Nov 25th, 2021


During the course of recent decades, the promoters of the concept of welfare state in Western countries have largely succeeded in convincing many citizens that they are being automatically entitled to a variety of social services by the mere fact of their existence. According to them, it is the responsibility of society as a whole, to make sure that all of its members enjoy an access to free Medicare, that they never have to struggle with trying to satisfy their basic physiological needs, and that their children are being given a chance to obtain a good education, at the expense of a state. The conceptual essence of this idea has been articulated in Richard Titmuss’s book “Commitment to welfare” with utter frankness: “The rights of the consumer to certain services are irrespective of their morals and patterns of behavior” (Titmuss 1976, p. 81). Throughout his career as a social researcher, Titmuss continued to promote the idea that the proper functioning of a modern state should not be discussed in terms of geopolitics, but rater in terms of sociology.


Unlike classical theorists of a statehood before him, such as Thomas Hobbs, Titmuss believed that the idea of social fairness should not only correspond to citizens’ ability to enjoy equal opportunities of socio-economic advancement, but that they should not even be required to strive towards attaining social prominence, in order to be able to enjoy high standards of living. According to Titmuss, the realities of 20th century’s living in Western countries were defined by the fact that, unlike what it used to be the case, during course of earlier centuries, the amount of socially generated wealth in these countries increased in exponential progression to the flow of time. Moreover, this process has been closely followed by a dramatic increase of social awareness among society’s members. For example; whereas, in late 19th century’s Britain, the idea of social fairness had only been shared by comparatively few citizens, closely affiliated with Marxist agenda, in late 20th century this was no longer the case. Throughout the second half of this century, more and more citizens were coming to realization that there was no logical explanation to the fact that, despite Britain being considered as one of the richest countries in the world, a substantial number of country’s citizens continued to experience a hard time, while trying to meet ends.

Therefore, the ideological premise, upon which Titmuss had based his theories, can be referred to as being simply a sublimation of poor people’s anxieties in regards to the issue of poverty. As practice shows, there are virtually no socially underprivileged citizens, who would be willing to admit that their low social status serves as an economic reflection of their existential inadequateness – it is always somebody else’s fault. As Titmuss had put it in his article “Social administration in a changing society”: “The problem of poverty is not a problem of individual character and its waywardness, but a problem of economic and industrial organization. It had to be studied first at its sources, and only secondly in its manifestation” (Titmuss 1951, p. 186). In its turn, such his assumption had brought Titmuss to conceptualize the idea of a welfare state as the only acceptable form of social organization. In his other article “The welfare state: Images and realities”, Titmuss cites Gunnar Myrdal’s definition of a welfare state as being nothing short of a paradise of Earth: “The State, in all the rich countries in the Western world, has become a democratic Welfare State, with fairly explicit commitments to the broad goals of economic development, full employment, equality of opportunity for the young, social security, and protected minimum standards as regards not only income, but nutrition, housing, health, and education for people of all regions and social groups” (Titmuss 1963, p. 4). As it appears to form this article’s context, Titmuss fully agreed with such a definition. However, given definition’s utterly utopic sounding, Titmuss had rightly concluded that institutionalization of a welfare state cannot occur naturally, while coming up with a suggestion that, in order for citizens to be able to realize their full existential potential without experiencing socially constructed limitations, equality must be forcibly imposed upon them by the mean of governmental intervention. Therefore, the fact that in modern Western states governmental bureaucracy continues to expand the range of its social, economic and social responsibilities is being considered by Titmuss as something utterly beneficial to these states’ well-being: “In all Western countries the state intervenes, regulates, and directs to a far larger extent than in the past. It does so for many public purposes and uses a variety of methods: budgetary, credit, fiscal, and other controls for maintaining the balance and full working of the economy” (Titmuss 1963, p. 5). Such Titmuss’s stance of the issue is absolutely explainable – apparently, the author was able to rightly conclude that there are no independently existing preconditions for the establishment of a welfare state. However, such his conclusion also accounted for numerous logical fallacies, contained in Titmuss’ discussions as to how government should proceed with enforcing social fairness within a particular society.

For example, in his article “The welfare complex in changing society”, Titmuss suggests that providing disadvantaged members of society with health services should serve a purpose of helping these people to restore their health: “The accepted purpose of the health service is to treat the individual who has some malfunction in such manner as to restore him to health, and that must involve the individual’s mental, emotional and social functions as well as his physical functions” (Titmuss 1967, p. 11). Yet, in the very same article, author implies that it is namely citizens affected by genetically-based diseases, who should be able to benefit from having an access to affordable Medicare more then anybody else: “This blurring of the hitherto sharp lines of demarcation between home care and institutional care, between physical disability and mental disability, between educationally backward children and so-called “delinquent” children, and between health needs and welfare needs, is all part of a general movement toward more effective service for the public”(Titmuss 1967, p. 11). Given the fact that people’s severe mental disabilities are being biologically predetermined, they cannot be addressed socially (unless social policies in regards to the issue are being concerned with sterilization) – apparently, such an idea had never occurred to Titmuss.

Had Titmuss been a Christian moralist, such his stance on the issue would have made sense. Yet, he never ceased positioning himself as a social scientist, without being able to draw a line between the concepts of solidarity and charity, simply because; whereas, the concept of solidarity implies purposefulness, the concept of charity can be discussed as anything but as such that relates to the notion of purposefulness.

This explains the fact that, even those critics who favor Titmuss’s promotion of the concept of welfare state, would never refer to his works as representing an objective academic value. In his article “Richard Titmuss”, T. Marshall states: “One must ask whether the altruistic gift or service is necessarily voluntary and unpaid; whether the professional social worker of today is less altruistic than the voluntary social worker of the past… Titmuss was certainly aware of these issues. But whenever he broached them he referred back to his facts and found them inadequate to sustain his argument… So what he (Titmuss) gave us was a moving and convincing declaration of faith, and a rich store of ideas for future research” (Marshall 1973, p. 139). If an individual bases his supposedly scientific theories on “faith”, it automatically deprives these theories of an academic soundness. Had Titmuss possessed a basic knowledge of physics, biology and history, he would know that the concept of a welfare state can never be realized in practice, because if being practically implemented, it would eventually destroy the economy of such a state – the history of socialist movements in 20th century fully substantiates the validity of this suggestion.

There can be no doubt that Titmuss was absolutely sincere, while promoting the concept of social fairness, but there can be also no doubt that he remained utterly incompetent, while pursuing with such his agenda. For example, in the article “The welfare state: Images and realities”, from which we have already quoted, Titmuss strived to distance the concept of welfare state from the political doctrine of Communism, without being able to realize that it was namely in the Soviet Union, where implementation of a welfare state concept had been brought to its logical conclusion: “The welfare state has evolved as a particular manifestation of Western democratic societies. The Communists disdain it, perhaps because Stalin regarded equality as a bourgeois prejudice (!)” (Titmuss 1963, p. 2). This statement alone points out as Titmuss as someone who simply lacked education, because if it was not the case, he would know that in Stalin’s USSR, people were even forbidden to wear colorful clothing – all for the sake of equality. What was the ultimate reason for the collapse of Soviet Union? It is the fact that such collapse has been predetermined by the very abbreviation of USSR (Union of Socialist Republics), because the doctrine of social egalitarianism transgresses the laws of nature in most blatant manner. Let us explain this suggestion at length.

The reason why universe exists in the first place is that its energy is being unequally distributed throughout universe’s entirety. Therefore, it is namely the differentiation in energetic potentials, which makes life possible. According to the Second Law of Thermo Dynamics, the amount of entropy in the universe is geometrically proportionate the degree of energy’s dissipation throughout the cosmos. Given the fact that human societies are essentially material, The Second Law of Thermo Dynamics applies to them as well. In human societies, energetic differentiation is being defined by the lack of resources (inequality), experienced by its members, which serves as the primary force behind civilizational progress.

On the other hand, the ultimate goal of a welfare state is to equally distribute resources between society’s members, due to considerations of fairness – when this happens, the continuous social, cultural and scientific progress in such state becomes impossible, simply because the notion of equality is synonymous to the notion of energetic death. In truly fair society, people will be totally deprived of a stimulus to indulge in socially-productive activities. After all, those unwilling to work would still be able to enjoy comfortable living – the government will take care of them by forcing employed taxpayers to simply share the riches with “underprivileged” social parasites. This is exactly what Titmuss’s ideas are all about in the nutshell.

Throughout the course of his life, Titmuss never ceased promoting an idea that citizens’ ability to have an access to a variety of social services should be thought of as their right. Moreover, this British sociologist had repeatedly suggested that it was up to the government to redistribute nation’s wealth among the citizens. Unfortunately, Titmuss’s theories do not provide us with the answer as to what is going to prevent governmental bureaucrats, in charge of redistributing wealth, from being temped to abuse their executive powers, while on the line of duty.

Apparently, Titmuss seriously believed that such vaguely defined concept as altruism must serve as metaphysical foundation, upon which the process of designing socio-political policies in Britain should have been based. Yet, as we have pointed out earlier – one’s belief is one thing, but the reality is another.

It appears that history had not taught anything the contemporary promoters of equality – just as it was the case with their ideological predecessors, they believe that there is nothing wrong with their desire to impose fairness upon citizens, despite these citizens’ actual will. How do they propose this could be achieved? By subjecting economy’s functioning to governmental control, of course. In his book “Perspectives on welfare”, Alan Deacon states: “Government must offer a framework for market-steering which results in better and fairer market transactions” (Deacon 2002, p. 75). What individuals like Deacon and Titmuss could not understand though, is that when government begins to meddle in economic affairs with too much enthusiasm, the economy’s effective functioning comes to a halt. It is important to understand that the subjects of economy are millions and millions of people – each with its own economic interests. Just as one’s body, economy is an organism, consisting of operational cells. This means that it is only economy as a whole, which can be thought of as objectively existing phenomenon. Just as a particular cell of one’s body cannot steer the rest of cells, government cannot steer economy, because it never ceases to remain economy’s subject. While trying to govern economy, socialist-minded politicians simply act as cancerous cells – they destroy the whole body of economics.

Why was Titmuss unable to understand that if being deployed, his ideas would cause the collapse of British economy? The reading of John Welshman’s article “The unknown Titmuss”, provides us with the answer to this question – apparently, it never occurred to Titmuss that people are being subjected to biological laws of evolution, just as it is the case with plants and animals, which is why he continued to insist that people’s existential inadequacy is being environmentally rather then biologically predetermined: “He (Titmuss) argued that as standards rose, and became more discriminatory and demanding, the more intolerant society became of its ‘ineffectives’. These included older people, ‘problem families’, delinquents, psychotics, and the ‘feeble-minded’ who were variously retired, segregated, punished, and institutionalized. As the dependencies of these groups were emphasized and their employment opportunities restricted, needs were created. It was the task of the social services to meet these needs” (Welshman 2004, p. 238). Is it really so? It is a well known fact that banks prefer giving credits to those who do not really need any money, as opposed to those who claim that, without being given a monetary credit, their lives would be destroyed. The same applies to “people in need” – the more they seem to require assistance, the less likely are the chances that they would be able to benefit from it. This is why individuals chronically dependent of social security programs, as the way to make living, represent such an acute social problem. And, as it appears – people like Titmuss actively contribute to this problem becoming even more acute, simply because they are being utterly incapable of subjecting their emotions to their sense of rationale. This is why in Titmuss’s books; there are no references to logic. The only reason why author would suggest that disadvantaged people should not feel as being disadvantaged is that he irrationally believed that it should have been the case, with considerations of common sense being quite unknown to Titmuss.

Apparently, the only thing Titmuss used to be concerned about, throughout his career, is maintaining his reputation of a progressive individual, with the idea that it would make a lot of sense to analyse the possible consequences of his proposals, never even occurring to him. However, given the fact that Western societies become increasingly feminised, as time goes by, the full extent of mental inadequacy, on the part of promoters of welfare state concept, often goes unnoticed. In its turn, this explains why Titmuss continues to be considered as a legitimate political scientist, despite clearly nonsensical essence of his philosophy. The same can said about contemporary proponents of a welfare state concept, who make money on publishing books about “inequality”.

For example, in their book “The widening gap: Health inequalities and policy in Britain”, Mary Shaw, Daniel Dorling, David Gordon and George Smith come up with a suggestion that government officials should increasingly rely upon a popular vote, as the mean of legitimizing their intention to turn Britain into a welfare state: “What matters first is for the government to change the direction of trends making for increased poverty and inequality. This depends on mobilizing popular support for a number of principled measures, and introducing more institutions at the same time as strengthening existing ones” (Shaw et al. 1999, p. xiv). Had authors familiarized themselves with what had brought about the collapse of California’s economy in 2003, they would know that it is was namely the overwhelming support for governmental institutionalization of more and more social services, expressed by ordinary Californians during the course countless referendums in the past. People are illogical beings – they simultaneously strive for reduction of taxes, on one hand, and for introduction of new welfare policies, on another. Therefore, “people’s will” is the last thing; responsible politicians should take into consideration, while designing social policies. In the next part of this paper, we will provide readers with additional proofs as to the fact that the realities of post-industrial living in Western countries had deprived Titmuss’s concept of a welfare state of even remains of its formal validity.

As we have shown earlier, the conceptual soundness of Titmuss’s faith-based theory could not have been seriously discussed, even in time when British society remained culturally and racially homogenous. However, when welfare state is being established to serve the needs of a multicultural society, then the nonsensical essence of his theory becomes apparent even to people without formal degrees.

For example, it has traditionally been assumed by welfare state theorists that people’s dependency on social assistance programs is not genetically predetermined. In their book “Cycles of disadvantage: A review of research”, Michael Rutter and Nicola.Madge state: “At least half of the children born into a disadvantaged home do not repeat the pattern of disadvantage in the next generation” (Rutter & Madge 1976, p. 120). However, such authors’ suggestion only remained valid until the time when the policy of multiculturalism had attained an official status in Western societies. The contemporary realities of multicultural living in such countries as Britain, U.S., France and Germany, leave no doubt as to the fact that the overwhelming majority of representatives of ethnic minorities in these countries (with probable exception of Chinese) became fully specialized in relying upon governmental assistance, as the way to meet ends, regardless of whether they belong to first, second, third of fourth generation of ethnic immigrants. Why work if gullible White taxpayers, instilled with the complex of historical guilt, do not mind taking care of these people’s expenses. While in U.S., all the average Mexican couple has to do, in order to qualify for thousands and thousands of dollars in monthly welfare payments, is to conceive 4-5 kids, without even being required to look after these kids’ upbringing. In Mexico, these people would be required to work hard for even one hundredth of the money they receive from American government on monthly basis, by simply residing in America.

Another example – in their book “Tackling inequalities: Where are we now and what can be done?”, Christina Pantazis and David Gordon provide us with the insight on how New Labor government of Tony Blair had gone about addressing the issue of inequality in Britain: “The New Labor government has responded to the increasing spatial concentrations of poverty and inequality by introducing a plethora of area-based policies to deal with the lack of opportunities in deprived areas” (Pantazis & Gordon 2000, p. 16). When translated into intelligible language, authors’ suggestion can be articulated as follows: while being presented with the challenge of combating poverty in ethnic ghettos, Blair’s government decided to tackle the problem by taking money away from hard working Britons and distributing it among ethnically unique welfare recipients, so that they may continue celebrating diversity by holding demonstrations against British imperialism in the center of London and by bringing explosives into London’s subway.

We can only wonder as to why sociologists who believe that equality and altruism should be given a status of state-based policy cannot grasp the counter-productive essence of such their belief. The same applies to many politicians in Western countries’ highest offices, who think that there is nothing wrong about them propagating essentially Marxist ideas. In his article “The exploration of social problems in the field of social policies”, Robert Page quotes from Gordon Brown’s speech, during the course of which British Prime Minister had referred to his own country as an oppressive state, which denies many of its citizens an opportunity to attain social prominence: “What people resent about Britain today is not that some people who have worked hard had done well. What angers people is that millions are denied the opportunity to realize their potential and are powerless to do so” (Page 2001, p. 24). The very context of this suggestion implies that people who work hard have no reason to complain about being denied an opportunity to realize their potential. Apparently, Brown is being ignorant as to the fact that nowadays, there are millions of Britons who go about realizing their potential by never ceasing to complain about such an opportunity being denied to them, simply because it pays good money!

For example, when British citizens of Pakistani descend are being asked to consider the possibility of becoming employed, instead of continuing to rely on social assistance, they respond back by instigating race riots and by setting cars on fire at night – as the result, these people’s welfare checks become instantly “fatter”. This is exactly how welfare state works – instead of trying to reduce the levels of social entropy within a society by eliminating the agents of such entropy, welfare state does something entirely opposite. It instills citizens with the sense of existential irresponsibleness – after all, according to Titmuss, it is individual’s humanity that matters the most, and not his or her ability to function as a productive member of society. The problem is – while continuing to pay for underprivileged people’s food and social services, working citizens would eventually get tired of it. When this happens, the economy of a welfare state will sustain a heavy blow – the fact that in early nineties Soviet Union had collapsed just like a stack of cards, substantiates the full validity of such our suggestion.


Thus, the conclusion of this paper can be formulated as follows: it is not only that the concept of welfare state had been deprived of any practical significance, but it had also lost the remains of its theoretical validity, due to an ongoing process of Western countries’ multiculturalization. Despite the fact that many Western countries are now believed to be functioning as welfare states, the gap between poor and rich in these countries continues to widen at alarming speed. The very notion of multiculturalism implies the absence of national solidarity, as a consolidating force within ethnically diversified society. Moreover, due to the process of Globalization, we cannot even discuss the concept of statehood as the essential part of today’s geopolitical reality, as it still used to be the case throughout sixties and seventies. Nowadays, national governments are being only formally responsible for the process of designing socio-political policies in their countries, with World Trade Organization being in charge of this process de facto. Therefore, there is not even a single reason for us to consider Titmuss’s theoretical legacy as such that represents any practical value, whatsoever.


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Page, R. (2001). The exploration of social problems in the field of social policies. In: May, M. et al. Understanding social problems: issues in social policy. NY, Wiley-Blackwell, pp. 16-26.

Pantazis, C & Gordon, D. (2000) Tackling inequalities: Where are we now and what can be done? Bristol, Policy Press.

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Titmuss, R. (1967) The welfare complex in a changing society. The Milbank Memorial Fund Quarterly, 45 (1), pp. 9-23.

Wilson, W. (1987) The truly disadvantaged: The inner city, the underclass, and public policy. Chicago, Chicago University Press.

Wilson, W. (1997) When work disappears: The world of the new urban poor. NY, Vintage.

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