The welfare geography approach deals with the issues related to inequality and injustice. The approach grew up as a reaction to the quantitative and model-building traditions of the 1960s.
In the 1970s there was a major redirection of human geography towards social problems, viz., poverty, hunger, crime, racial discrimination, access to health, education, etc. The issues such as the distribution of the fruits of economic development received attention mainly as a result of dramatic socio-political changes in Eastern Europe and South Africa.
Therefore, the basic emphasis of welfare geography is on who gets what, where and how. The ‘who’ suggests a population of an area under review (a city, region or nation). The ‘what’ refers to various facilities and handicaps enjoyed and endured by the population in the form of services, commodities, social relationships, etc. The ‘where’ refers to the differing living standards in different areas? And ‘how’ reflects the process by which the observed differences arise.
According to the Dictionary of Human Geography edited by R.J. Johnston, D. Gregory and David M. Smith (1994), “in a spatially disaggregated society, the general level of welfare may be written as:
W = f (S1……. Sn),
Where S is the level of living or social well-being in a set of n territorial subdivisions. In other words, welfare is some function of the distribution of goods and bads among groups of the population defined by area of residence.
Social well-being may be defined in terms of what people actually get, as follows:
where X represents the quantity of the m goods and bads consumed or experienced. Social well- being may also be expressed in terms of the distribution within the area in question:
S = f (U1… Uk),
Where U is the level of well-being, satisfaction or ‘utility’ of each of the k population subgroups. In all the above expressions,, the terms may be weighted differentially and combined according to any function, to represent the combination of territorial levels of well-being, goods and bads or group well-being that maximises the objective function (W or S).”
For identifying disparity in territorial distribution, developing social indicators is of extreme importance. Such indicators may be as follows: income, employment, housing, education, social orders, social participation, etc.
The welfare approach found Neo-classical economics least suitable to explain social inequality. The Marxian economics provides a useful tool for analysing social problems, because of the inherent tendency of capitalism to create disparity.
The second level of explanation deals with the process of how specific elements of a socio-political- economic system operate. D.M. Smith (1977), in his Human Geography: A Welfare Approach, first suggested the approach which later merged with other approaches of geography dealing with the issues of inequality.
The issues dealt by welfare geography demand an interdisciplinary approach of the highest order. And, in a rapidly changing era of globalisation where the developing South stands deprived vis-avis the advanced North, there has been a renewed interest in welfare geography.