Debates over the ways in which governments should respond to poverty are some of the most controversial in modern democratic societies. In the past three decades, this controversy has focused on the welfare state: the range of institutionalized programmes through which governments aim to provide universal support to their citizens. The modern welfare state is a recent phenomenon, although its origins can be traced to the expansion of government assistance during the late nineteenth century in several European states, particularly in Germany, where Bismarck introduced social insurance programmes in the 1880s in order to counter emerging popular support for socialism. Some countries developed support programmes in response to the Great Depression of the 1930s, and American President Franklin Roosevelt declared that the ideal social security system would provide protection from the cradle to the grave. It was only after the Second World War, however, that most Western nations expanded their welfare policies to various degrees of comprehensive coverage of the population. The different ways in which welfare programmes have developed across nations reflect a range of political and cultural factors.
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