Kati Kuitto, Post-communist Welfare States in European Context

Kati Kuitto, Post-communist Welfare States in European Context: Patterns of Welfare Policies in Central and Eastern Europe, Edward Elgar, 2016, vii + 210 pp, hbk, 1 78471 197 9, £65

The task that the author sets herself is to provide

a better understanding of the characteristics of the welfare systems in the Central and Eastern European new member states of the EU. This, in turn, will contribute to a more integrated, theory-based, analytical comparative view on the welfare systems in the enlarged Europe as a whole. (p. 1)

In her introductory chapter, Kuitto surveys existing studies in order to discover the research gaps that need to be filled, and offers her own three dimensional theoretical framework:

  1. organizational principle of welfare provision;
  2. welfare spending emphasis for different policy objectives; and
  3. decommodifying potential (p. 10).

In chapter 3 Kuitto constructs theoretical boundaries for welfare states, and offers a most useful survey of welfare state typologies (and finds that Esping-Andersen’s regime typology remains surprisingly useful). She then adds detail to her own three-dimensional theoretical framework. Chapter 4 describes the research method, designed to discover evidence for convergence and divergence between the welfare regimes in Central and Eastern European countries. The final chapter summarises the findings, and particularly the finding that ‘universalism’ is generally high in post-communist countries; that expenditure is lower than in Western Europe; and that the dominant organizational principle remains a Bismarckian contributory one.This is a most useful book. It is based on rigorous method, it contains a vast amount of data, and it draws useful conclusions. A review of this length cannot possibly summarise the considerably amount of valuable detail that the book contains. You will need to read the book for that.

Anyone coming to this book with the concept of a Citizen’s Income in their mind will need to take care. ‘Universalism’ in this book relates to ‘the coverage rate’ (p. 176), which conforms to Esping-Andersen’s use of the term. It does not mean benefits received at the same rate by everyone of the same age. There is clearly nothing that can be done about such terminological confusion, which is hardly the fault of the author or of anyone else. We simply need to take care that we are aware of the different meanings of the term ‘universalism’, and work out from the context precisely which one is being employed. A further comment: The author assumes, along with much of the social policy profession, that ‘universalism’ (understood in relation to coverage) and ‘generosity’ can be quantified by amalgamating other quantifications: but this author’s quantifications are as good as any, and they cohere well with the clustering that we might expect to see on the basis of qualitative research – so if anyone wishes to study the ‘quantification of social policy indicators’ issue, this book could be a good place to start.

Chapter 5 contains the empirical analysis, in which Kuitto finds expenditure-pattern evidence for clusters of countries. Most of the Central and Eastern European countries find themselves together in a category characterised by ‘the lowest average overall generosity in the sample, but at the same time by a high degree of universalism and moderately generous sickness insurance’ (p. 155). Slovenia and Hungary find themselves in a different cluster, with Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, Portugal, and Austria. This cluster is characterised by low universality but also by high generosity. The UK finds itself in a cluster of ‘laggards’ (p. 157), with France and Italy.

The second chapter charts the trajectories of welfare policies in the post-communist countries, starting with the structure of welfare provision in the communist era. Kuitto finds that transition economies required urgent provision of unemployment benefits, and that a contributory route was taken, along with locally-administered means-tested systems. Pensions systems were largely privatised. She describes the result as ‘multi8layered and diversified welfare reforms’ (p. 37).