Social spending usually refers to funds governments set aside for social programs. Many of these programs are designed to offer assistance to the poor or needy, and may include allotments for housing, food, and medical care. Depending on the needs of the individual, these programs could offer either permanent or temporary assistance.
The ultimate goal of most government social spending programs is the eventual elimination of poverty. People who live in poverty often need help to improve their situation, and governments in most developed countries are willing to offer that assistance. Some welfare programs require that the recipient participate in programs designed to help them gain employment. This is sometimes required to discourage using social spending programs as a way of life, but rather as a steppingstone to eventual self-reliance.
Many social spending programs involve food assistance. In the United States, citizens can apply for food stamps, which is a program offering funds that can be used to purchase food. Food stamp eligibility is determined by factors based on income and the number of people who live in the household. Food stamp allotments are intended only for the purchase of food and cannot be used for any other purpose. In addition, food stamps can only be used to buy food sold at groceries or other food retailers, and are prohibited for use in restaurants or other food service establishments.
Governments often set aside funds to help their citizens maintain health and to offer medical assistance to those who cannot afford it on their own. In the US, government-funded health clinics offer free or reduced pricing on some wellness programs such as immunizations, addiction management, and weight loss. Depending on age and income level, needy citizens may qualify for other health programs such as Medicaid or Medicare. Some countries, such as the United Kingdom and Canada, offer universal health care for all their citizens, regardless of age or income level.
Social spending is often targeted at education. Most public school systems are a good example of this, and many experts believe that education is the key to eliminating poverty. Some governments offer education programs that assist students all the way through college, but in the US, free education typically ends after high school. In some cases, students may receive grants or scholarships, but most of these are privately funded and do not involve government funds.