After austerity: policy responses and public attitudes towards the welfare state in Europe

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After austerity: policy responses and public attitudes towards the welfare state in Europe

A comparative perspective

Benjamin Leruth and Peter Taylor-Gooby, University of Kent

The WelfSOC project examines public attitudes towards the welfare state and aims at examining people’s aspiration for welfare provisions for the future. Democratic forums will be used as an innovative research method in order to determine the aspirations, priorities and preferences when it comes to assessing welfare provisions in their children’s Europe.

As part of this project, we intend to publish at least two books. The first one, entitled “After Austerity: The New Politics of Welfare in Europe”, focuses on policy responses to the Great Recession across Europe and includes other countries such as France, Greece, Italy and Sweden, as well as a chapter assessing developments at the European Union level. The second book will draw on WelfSOC findings, and discuss changes in public attitudes towards the welfare state in comparative perspective. We hypothesise that a long-term shift away from the solidarities that facilitated the development of welfare states in Europe is taking place and that this process has been accelerated by responses to the Great Recession.

The main objectives of this paper is to connect these two book projects and to complement national background papers by offering a comparative overview of policy responses to the Great Recession and of public attitudes towards welfare politics in the five countries analysed within the framework of the WelfSOC project: Denmark, Norway, Germany, Slovenia and the United Kingdom. Some data on public attitudes in France, Greece, Italy and Sweden is also included, and could be part of our first book, as mentioned above. It is divided into three main sections. The first one assesses the political context in the five countries considered, and focuses on party politics and policy responses to the Great Recession. The second one then discusses public attitudes towards the welfare state. A particular emphasis is put on four themes, which should be prevalent in each country: neo-liberalism, immigration, gender, and inequality. National and cross-national data will be put together, in order to assess the relevance of welfare-related issues in comparative perspective. The third section then offers a preliminary conclusion, drawing on similarities and differences between the five countries.

Welfare/party politics after the Great Recession: most recent developments

Party and electoral systems significantly vary from one country to another. Denmark and Norway are both parliamentary representative, democratic constitutional monarchies, with well-established multi-party systems and unicameral parliaments; Slovenia is a ‘young’ post-Communist parliamentary representative democratic republic, with an asymmetric bicameral legislature and a stable multi-party system; Germany is a federal parliamentary republic, with a multi-party system led by the Christian Democratic Union and the Social Democratic Party; and the United Kingdom is a bicameral constitutional monarchy with devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, using a first-past-the-post electoral system favouring bipartisanship despite an increasing fragmentation of the electorate, suggesting a move towards a multi-party system within the constraints of first-past-the-post voting.

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