Alternative Welfare Providers and Intra-National Welfare Regimes

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

Most of our non-social policy colleagues must be drained of listening about welfare regimes and welfare mixes. The fact is that since Esping-Andersen’s pioneer work on the worlds of welfare capitalism, we can find 782 papers – and counting – published in Web of Science journals dealing with the topic of ‘welfare regime’. Hundreds more published on books, and academic articles in journals non-indexed in Web of Science. So, why bother with another paper on welfare regimes?

First we, as social policy scholars, have mainly concentrated our efforts in examining a state-centric national picture of welfare regimes. I argue that a single national welfare regime for a country provides a macro and generalist description of how welfare providers interact to satisfy social risks and promote the wellbeing of the population. However, it does not correctly portray the welfare-mixes across regions/provinces in a country or across social policy areas. The reason: welfare regimes show significant variations across social policy sectors and geographical regions. Gough made this evident when highlighting that the so-called “liberal Britain” ‘still retains a universal National Health Service’. Ratigan recently showed a systematic subnational variation with distinct worlds of welfare across Chinese provinces. Based on the experience of marginalised communities, we found a social policy fragmentation in Puerto Rico with different intra-national welfare regimes across social policy sectors. Moreover, we confirmed that national welfare regime patterns might, in reality, be programme-specific.

Second, a large part of the literature on welfare regimes in Latin America – and the world – rely on what welfare providers claim to do rather than on what the population reports as actually having access to. Multiple actors are involved in the production, consumption and distribution of goods, services and welfare policies. However, we argue that when studying welfare regimes, more attention is paid to traditional welfare providers – the state, market and the family – and not always sufficient attention is paid to alternative welfare providers.

These alternative providers complement the state, market and family satisfying social risks through what Seelkopf and Starke call ‘social policy by other means’. To solve these two limitations, we analysed the role of traditional welfare providers and an alternative welfare provider (the community) in the allocation of resources and distribution of social risks with a bottom-up approach. In other words, how the state, market, family and the community interact to produce wellbeing according to the perception of residents in marginalised communities of Puerto Rico. The community is considered as part of a broader ‘institutional responsibility matrix’ acting as a fourth institutional actor to the state–market–family welfare provider trinity. Other alternative actors might be religious organisations, social movements, NGOs, among others.

We conducted semi-structured interviews to confirm how the state, market, family and the community combine to satisfy basic needs and social risks of residents across eight policy areas. Interviewees considered the family, state and the market as the dominant welfare providers (i.e. those that were mentioned the most number of times as the primary welfare provider). Interviewees portrayed the community as an alternative actor providing welfare in five of the eight policy areas. It may not be producing well- being via orthodox social policy – in other words, social insurance and social assistance programmes – but its role as an alternative actor providing ‘social policy by other means’ should not be overlooked. For example:

  1. In the organisation and provision of communal spaces for medical care.
  2. By subsidising the medical care costs for residents in extreme income poverty in exchange for community work.
  3. By creating and maintaining educational spaces where students can access books and a computer with internet.
  4. By establishing and maintaining community vegetable gardens to provide residents with organic products at a low cost and at the same time fund the community project.

Based on the dominant welfare providers as perceived by the majority of interviewees, and the methodology proposed by Marcel and Rivera, we propose five intra-national welfare regimes coexisting in Puerto Rico. We found a variety of actors in the welfare-mix of each policy area; each one providing welfare and allocating resources through different means, modes and combinations.

  • The market and the family played a central role in the distribution of social risks associated with the housing area (evidencing a liberal welfare regime).
  • The market played a central role in the nourishment and health area. However, the state intervenes with a residual role using means-tested social assistance programmes, thus following the characteristics of a liberal- residual welfare regime.
  • The family played a central role in the maternity/paternity policy area, with a care-taking role (showing a conservative-familialist welfare regime).
  • The state had a dominant role in the remaining four areas: education, disability, work- unemployment, and older-age. In the education area, the provision was universal and free in the elementary, intermediate and high school. Meanwhile, in the other three areas, the corporatist role of the state was evident as only those working in the formal sector and meeting the eligibility requirements related to contributions were able to become beneficiaries of disability, pension and unemployment programmes. Even though there is the active participation of the state in various policy areas, public welfare policies cannot be considered as promoting equality of the highest standards, but rather equality of minimal needs. This is the main reason to consider welfare regimes in the state-dominant areas as proto-social democrats rather than social democratic (not to be confused with the social-democratic Nordic welfare states).

In sum, what this paper aims is to highlight the need to rethink and reconsider the simplistic idea of arguing that it is possible to identify a single national welfare regime to describe the allocation of social risks across social policy areas and geographical areas in a country. So, indeed, there is a reason for another paper on welfare regimes and, for sure, for many others to come.

About the author

Gibrán Cruz-Martínez is a Juan de la Cierva Research Fellow at the Institute of Public Goods and Policies (CSIC) in Spain. His most recent book ‘Welfare and Social Protection in Contemporary Latin America‘, was published in Routledge in 2019. His latest peer-reviewed articles focus on social pensions and are entitled “Rethinking universalism: Older-age international migrants and social pensions in Latin America and the Caribbean” and “Older‐Age Social Pensions and Poverty: Revisiting Assumptions on Targeting and Universalism”.


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