Eradication of Deprivation

All welfare states, all over the world, provide at a minimum for the most basic needs of their citizens, i.e., for their physical subsistence. Guaranteeing subsistence will lead in effect to the redistribution of economic resources. However, this measure is not directed against inequality per se but against absolute standards of deprivation. As such, it consti?tutes only the most basic level of a security net. The basic function of a welfare system is the establishment of a certain kind and level of social security against deprivation. It focuses on preventing emergencies and income loss, and providing necessary compensation. It includes precautions against so-called standard risks—accidents, illness, the need for care, unemployment, the loss of income as a result of old age (although senescence can hardly be described as a risk) and the regulation of working hours and safety in the workplace. People with different natural endowments, especially those with natural disadvantages such as handicaps and illnesses, as well as people in need (due to poverty, hunger, diseases, war, displacement, looting and so on) suffer deprivation as a result of handicaps that exist through no fault of their own. These handicaps entail unequal chances to pursue an autonomous, responsible and successful life. They are, from a moral perspective, arbitrary and, consequently, require compensation. Morally speaking, the compensation of such handicaps is the most basic reason for a social security net.

Helping the needy is a duty of all members of society and demands a collective institutional solution. For on the one hand, an individual is not always in a position to mobilize the necessary assistance by him- or herself. On the other hand, it would be unfair to assign the task to those individuals or groups in close spatial or temporal proximity to the victims. This would leave them with a larger burden of the social costs of providing assistance than is consistent with principles of fairness. It is necessary to ensure an equal distribution of burdens as well as of goods. This is why, for reasons of justice alone, a system of social assistance for the disadvantaged must be organized in a collective manner, and the burdens must be fairly distributed in an organized system structured around a division of labour. If persons in need were refused the necessary resources to fulfil those needs, although they are disadvantaged and thus incapable of taking the necessary steps to this end, then they would effectively be denied their status as equals. Exactly which needs justify social assistance is a question best left to the procedures of democratic self-determination. Although nearly all welfare systems have mechanisms to safeguard people against these risks, they can differ greatly both in the way in which they are financed and in their objectives.

Natural and situational disadvantages, therefore, necessitate compensation by those who are not affected, but this compensation only aims at creating or restoring a certain equality of opportunity. The goal is to ensure a moral minimum to which everybody is entitled. It covers those goods that are necessary, while taking into account personal capabilities and specific circumstances that enable an individual to realize functions and capabilities to a sufficient extent (Nussbaum 2011).

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