(Bristol: The Policy Press, 2002) ISBN: 1-86134-272-1. Paper Back £ 23.99 Order this book
Written by scholars from the British, Scandinavian and continental European welfare state traditions, this compilation provides an informative and stimulating account of recent developments in European labour markets and social security systems. Contributions take a variety of forms – surveys of general trends, conceptual discourses, single-country case-studies and cross-national comparisons – but what holds the book together is the editors’ insistence that, besides describing and explaining the changes that have taken place over the past twenty years in the institutions of the work-welfare complex, the paradigms that guide public policy towards it and the norms that shape social behaviour within it, contributors should also reflect on the significance of these changes for the social dimension of citizenship.
Amidst a wealth of detailed findings and observations, some general themes stand out. All welfare states confront common external and domestic pressures for change, but the ways in which governments and other social actors respond to these pressures vary widely from one country to another. For example, comparative evidence provides scant support for the standard neo-liberal claim that contemporary unemployment is caused by a combination of skill mismatch, labour market rigidity and dysfunctional tax and social security systems, and can only be cured by some combination of increased wage flexibility, investment in human capital and direct or indirect subsidies for low-productivity work. There is, in fact, no single best way to reduce unemployment, raise employment and increase labour market participation, either in the aggregate or among targeted social groups such as young people, older workers and ethnic minorities. The same applies to other social objectives such as the pursuit of gender equality.
Moreover, strategies which are equally effective in achieving these goals have divergent implications for citizenship, for here what counts is not just success in creating jobs and activating people who are, or risk becoming, disconnected from the labour market, but success in overcoming insider-outsider divisions, minimizing long-term unemployment, averting poverty and widening the remit of work-welfare policy to encompass unpaid caregiving, voluntary work and other socially valued, but unremunerated activities. The contrast between, say, Denmark and the UK is instructive in this regard. Since the early 1990s unemployment in both countries has fallen steadily, but whereas the former has maintained generous levels of social protection and has retained its traditionally egalitarian ethos and income distribution, the latter’s continued drive to recommodify the labour market and create a residual welfare state has taken it even further away from the partial, uneven and fragile form of social citizenship that was established after the Second World War.
It is reassuring to find that social scientists still have some use for the concept of social citizenship, both as an analytical category and as a normative ideal. It is also chastening to be reminded what a slippery concept it is and what formidable difficulties confront renewed efforts to pursue it in the age of the global market, when old sources of social solidarity, formed in the course of conflicts between classes and wars between nations, are finally exhausted and when, in Europe at any rate, social policy is increasingly influenced by interactions between states and by supranational regulation, as well as by more traditional interactions between national governments and domestic interest groups.