Inequality and Social Policy: The Sociology of Welfare


212 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-471-79867-3





Reviewed by John Marshall

John Marshall was Associate Professor of Library and Information Science at the University of Toronto.


Intended as a text for students of social welfare, this book will also be illuminating to the general reader. By focusing on the concept and reality of inequality in Canadian society, Djao cuts through to the essentials, at the same time providing the background and context for the necessary perspective. As he says, “While the focus is on social welfare policies — for example, those related to income security and social services — every attempt is made to relate such specific policies to social policy in the broader sense, especially with regard to health and education.”

The argument is set firmly in the context of the contemporary “welfare state” as an expression of monopoly capitalism. It is set also in the context of four major sociological perspectives: rugged individualism, modified individualism, social democracy, and Marxism. While the first three are founded essentially on a consensus orientation, the fourth (Marxism) is characterized by a conflict orientation based on a structural, class analysis. After discussing the pros and cons of these approaches, Djao discards the first three as in varying degrees inadequate and opts for the Marxist approach as his basic analytical instrument.

So equipped, he demonstrates that social inequality is not just a matter of mal-distribution of income, goods, and services, but reflects the prevailing class structure of Canadian society. He then discusses the effects of taxation and welfare policies on income distribution to show that, while somewhat alleviating poverty in a fairly selective fashion and providing a very shaky “floor” for substandard incomes, the basic pattern of income disparities remains undisturbed (as, of course, does the class structure!).

Djao explains also the complementary functions of the welfare state in reproduction of labour power and in maintaining the non-working population. The book reviews all the major forms of “welfare processes” (e.g., income security and social services), with a strong emphasis on the plight of women and minorities, including Native people and the working and non-working poor. One of the best features of the book is a careful analysis of poverty and the erroneous interpretations thereof, including the “culture of poverty” and “blaming the victim” fallacies. The need for and function of ideological props to the system are clearly dealt with.

The book throughout is lucid, balanced, reasonable. The genuine achievements of the welfare state are recognized, necessary social measures are given their due, and the crucial importance of “universality” is underlined. Djao emphasizes the contradictions inherent in the welfare state, contradictions that provide the opportunity and the lever for limited but essential improvements in the welfare net which Canadians now find it necessary to strengthen and defend.


Djao, A.W., “Inequality and Social Policy: The Sociology of Welfare,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 26, 2024,