Access to Welfare: An Introduction to Welfare Rationing by Peggy Foster

By Peggy Foster

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Welfare providers, particularly welfare professionals, have publicly emphasised their dedication to meeting c1ients' needs, whilst academics in the field of social administration have undertaken a great deal of research in this area. They have 'discovered' new needs, measured and publicised existing unmet needs and called for increasing provision to meet them. Researchers have also revealed the extent to which certain services have failed to distribute their benefits primarily according to need.

The problem with this attempt to make a c1ear cut distinction between needing and wanting based on the idea of harm is that it merely throws the problem of providing a universal, objective definition one stage further back. In order to be able to define need objectively we have to reach an objective definition of harm. Is such adefinition possible? At a very basic level it would appear that physical harm at least is a straightforward objective concept. If a man has an accident and loses an arm or a leg there is surely no doubt that he has been harmed.

If a man has an accident and loses an arm or a leg there is surely no doubt that he has been harmed. Yet even at this basic level there is room for doubt since the degree of harm suffered by an individual must depend partlyon his or her perception of it. Two peop\e experiencing the same degree of physical harm may perceive that harm in very different ways. Whereas one person's life may be shattered by the amputation of a leg or an arm, another person will adopt such a positive attitude towards overcoming the same disability that the extent of the harm inflicted on them appears to be minimal.

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