The End of Welfare

Philipp Sandermann, ed. The End of Welfare as We Know It? Continuity and Change in Western Welfare State Settings and Practices, Opladen: Barbara Budrich Publishers, 2014, PP. 139, Price Euro 19.90.

March 24, 2014, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol: 07 No. -18 Mar. 21- 2014 (Chaitra 07, 2070)

This book explains many concepts associated with welfare — the welfare state, social assistance, safety net, social expenditure, welfare practices, relief to dispossessed and public assistance programs that provide cash and non-cash benefits to the poor, disabled, children and elderly citizens.  It spotlights the nuanced differences of social welfare programs in the European and the American countries in the context of changing institutional norms. The neo-liberal orthodoxy marked the beginning of the debate on an end of social welfare state. It was the beginning of the primacy of economics over politics, society, nature and culture and the opening of the dialectics of social inclusion and exclusion causing democratic deficits. In the opening reflection, Philipp Sandermann, Professor of Social Pedagogy at the University of Trier, narrates the continuity and change in the Western governments’ welfare practices. He says that welfare state as it was known in the second half of the twentieth century marked an end propelling the social policies to move to post-welfarism and post-welfare state (p.9).

Despite the tall claim on the end of welfare state John Clarke argues with full empirical evidence of OECD countries that as percentage of GDP “social expenditure largely stayed the same, even increased in some cases” (p.21) during the negative projection of welfare state by the New Right and the neoliberals. For example, the UK, the USA and Germany allocated 13.2, 16.5 and 22.1 percent of their public social expenditure respectively in 1980. In 2011, these figures vaulted to 23.9, 19.7 and 26.2 percent respectively. One does clearly see the steady rise of public welfare in other countries as well. He distinguishes the terms between familialization and privatization and the shift in Western welfare practices from the public to the private sector with more gravitation towards naturalizing bonds of affection, obligation and future-oriented investments on children and elderly persons.

Sigrid Leitner tells about varieties of fimilialism and care policies in conservative welfare states—Austria, Belgium, France and Germany through path-dependent programmatic and institutional change. These countries have used class-mediating social contract as a distributional field of economic relations to avoid normal and abnormal social risks. The Anglophone countries, by contrast, have followed “corporate welfare” built on choice policies—outsourcing, contracting services, co-production of welfare outcome through public-private partnership, income transfer and the increased role of civil society. They devised strategies for the diminution, disaggregation and dispersal of state power while enabling it at the same time to intervene in areas of child care, schooling for children, punitive sanction against those parents who do not send children to school, participatory engagements and innovated a new public management tool.

Jamie Peck and Nik Theodore’s article captures the global frontier of post-welfare policy making following MDGs. This policy is based on conditional cash transfer to low-income households who play by the “rules” of enrolling children at school, adopt hygiene and health care and invest on future generation. Based on an aim of fulfilling basic needs, it combined both pro-poor and pro-market incentives, fostered social and economic promotion and used the crisis as a motivation for institutional and structural change (p.55). The World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank offered policy-based lending and practiced conditional cash transfer to Mexico and Brazil to alleviate poverty through technocratic means insulated from political processes. The authors, however, claim that this made-in-Washington solution failed to break the inter-generational cycle of poverty and decades of immiseration opening new solutions to home-grown methods and sharing of South-South experience.

Richard Muenchmeier compares the dissimilar historical welfare practices of the USA and Germany, particularly the shifting relationship of social policy and social work in the German welfare state, and asks whether German social policy has been “Americanized” with the withering of social and economic crises. The German welfare system maintains a “dual structure” of monetary benefits for livelihood support and pedagogic assistance such as socialization opportunities, counseling, individual case work, advisory services, etc. There are other supportive strategies—politicization, moralization and socio-political obligation where the author finds a contradiction between society causing and individual-enduring situation of hardship (p.78) resembling that of the US between dual structure and the welfare state. The latter, according to the author, aims to provide citizens emancipation, equal opportunities, education and self-fulfillment. He argues that the “activating state” intervenes in welfare production and uses “sanctions" to force its addresses into social integration by means of work (p.110).  He calls it a shift from post-welfarism to post-welfare statism. The author offers social justice and social solidarity as solutions for the achievement of social peace so as to   distinguish current period from the previous epochs.

Robert P. Fairbanks II explores welfare state transformation in two post-industrial cities of the US, Chicago and Philadelphia, in the context of recovery of African-American drug and alcohol users, urban poverty survival strategies and reform practices of social welfare policies. Presenting ethnographic evidence from the informal recovery house to the state penitentiary, he believes that the welfare systems as basically stratifying institutions as they differentially distribute rights and opportunities for citizens—often along racial, class and gender lenses (p.89) thus perpetuating the same conditions despite many palliative measures. He, consequently, finds solution in an expanded recovery program through urban social welfare practices, job-creation, education as well as re-entry, crime prevention and community safety. The last article by Vincent Dubois brings the case study of France. This is based on his interaction with the recipients in welfare offices. He reveals the conditions of declining social rights and increasing need for assistance with the transformation of welfare state, degradation of economic situation of poor, growing unemployment, diversity of the public and emerging conflict situation. The author unveils a paradox between individualization of welfare and the fragmentation in practices at the bureaucratic level that administers welfare benefits as the latter does not address global situation of the applicants, but only specific issues (p.134) and suggests to open office at proximity where poor live, develop personalized relationship, defend the unprivileged, evolve bottom-up social policies and responsibilize the recipients. It would have enriched the readers had the editor brought the lessons of the Scandinavian countries experience as well.

Obvioussly, this book is very useful to understand how the changing framework conditions enabled the European countries to adopt various welfare measures to address their social and economic crisis, evolved social policies and invented the solutions of social crisis in the values of social justice, social equality and social equal opportunities. These measures are important to foster the condition of human rights, democracy, social justice and stable peace. This book is highly useful for anyone interested in understanding the changing concept of welfare states as it is written by those who hold strong social conscience.

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