Welfare is necessary to protect social order and prevent property crimes but it is also threatening to employers and to the capitalist order because it erodes the work ethic, provides alternatives to low paying, unpleasant jobs, and creates a class of people who do not have to submit to employers.
The need to make unemployment as unpleasant as possible within the humane limits of a society, was thought to be necessary to maintaining a subdued and obedient workforce. In order to preserve work incentives, unemployment benefits had to be kept at low levels. As a result those receiving such benefits in most English speaking countries tend to live in poverty.
There is nothing like hunger or the fear of starvation to motivate people to work, even in the most unpleasant jobs. Providing income security for the unemployed undermines that motivation. Today some still argue that the able-bodied who cannot support themselves should go hungry (and this seems to be the approach taken in the US to the long term unemployed without dependent children). Director magazine noted approvingly the excellent work ethic of Singaporeans and attributed it in part to “the absence of welfare, so if you don’t work, you’re in trouble.”
Throughout the twentieth century, welfare has been characterised as creating dependency and eroding the work ethic. Joe Feagin, in his book Subordinating the Poor, argues that the main goals of welfare in the US were:
Welfare has often been provided, not only for compassionate and humanitarian reasons, but in response to a fear that hunger and dispossession would lead to social disorder, including crime and even rebellion by those who were thus cut off from society and a means of sustenance. Yet the problem for governments has always been how to confine welfare to those who are unwillingly unemployed or unable to work.