Do People Want Their Welfare States to Converge?

This blog is based on an article in the Journal of Social Policy.  Click here to access the full article.

We live in a globalised world where people travel much more and economies are linked. Despite this, our research shows that major differences in welfare provision remain, and that people in different countries want their systems to be different.

Welfare states come in kinds. There’s an obvious difference between the Mainland European social insurance-centred model, the Anglo-American market-based low-spend model and the Scandinavian high-tax, more inclusive model.

Many scholars have investigated the differences between these approaches. They tend to focus on state-run pensions, health care, and social security benefit systems. However, provision by firms for their workers, charities and NGOs, private businesses, and in the community also makes a major difference to people’s security and living standards.

We break new ground by taking a more holistic look at welfare and basing our approach on how people themselves understand the welfare systems rather than the way in which they are analysed by policy-makers and scholars. We take a detailed look at what people actually say about childcare and pensions in two countries from different regime types: Germany and the UK. We choose these two areas because while pensions are well-established and typify German social insurance and UK limited provision part-privatised welfare, childcare is relatively new area and the systems in the two countries are closer but still differ in the level of provision (see chart).

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Our work brings together large groups of people in each country and allows them to discuss policy in these areas and how they understand it now and how they think it will develop, with the minimum of interventions from academics. Analysis of some 36 hours of discussion in each country shows marked national differences in values and approach to both areas, though rather less marked in the case of childcare than that of pensions.

We have three conclusions:

First, despite all the changes in policy and all the pressures for convergence in a more globalised and internationally competitive world, the differences between welfare states identified by regime theory remain resilient.

Secondly, people’s perceptions of what is possible seem to be heavily shaped by the current policy in place in each country. The solutions proposed reflect the continuing national policy debates.

Thirdly, the new methods demonstrated in this paper, tackling welfare as ordinary people understand, not as scholars do, are valuable. Most people are concerned about what they get and what they have to pay for it, not about whether it comes from the state, a private agency, an NGO or charity or an employer.

About the authors

Peter Taylor-Gooby is Research Professor of Social Policy at the University of Kent.

Jan-Ocko Heuer is Research Associate (Postdoc) at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.

Heejung Chung is Reader in Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Kent.

Benjamin Leruth is Assistant Professor at the Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis at the University of Canberra.

Steffan Mau is Professor of Macrosociology at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.

Katharina Zimmerman is a Resaercher at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.




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