Deeming and Smyth (eds), Reframing Global Social Policy

Christopher Deeming and Paul Smyth (eds), Reframing Global Social Policy: Social investment for sustainable and inclusive growth, Policy Press, 2017, xv + 350 pp, 1 4473 3249 7, hbk, £90

The editors believe that the economic policy tide is turning. The neoliberal tide is going out, and the ‘shared prosperity’/‘inclusive capitalism’/‘social investment’ tide is coming in. In this emerging new context, social policy is being ‘reframed’ by policy actors: that is, we are hearing new expressions, such as ‘the social investment welfare state’, and we are seeing social policies to match the new framework.  The intention of the authors of this volume is to ‘critically engage with the new and emerging policy frameworks and perspectives that are now being designed by policy actors for the remaking of global social policy for the 21st century’ (p. 3).

Part I of the book studies the theoretical frameworks evidenced by new discourses.  Chapter 1 asks how such concepts as ‘social investment’ might enable policy actors to develop social policy that is as much about enabling people to participate in the economy as it is about protecting people from the effects of market failures. Chapter 2 asks whether the discussion might be enhanced by an ‘inclusive growth’ framework in more developed countries, and chapter 3 asks how an ‘inclusive growth’ perspective might enable economic and social policy to relate to each other in developing countries. Chapter 4, for which South Korea is a case study, suggests that the social investment and inclusive growth perspectives need each other.

Part II is about policy application. Chapter 5 defines inclusive income growth as ‘growth that is accompanied by declining (income) inequality’ (p. 129), and applies this perspective to the activities of a variety of financial institutions. It finds the concept of inclusive growth to be insufficiently defined, and develops its own tests for the presence of inclusive growth. Chapter 6 finds an inclusive labour contract to be an essential element of global social policy in today’s context, with employment protections being tailored to the different circumstances of different countries. Chapter 7 thinks it doubtful that ‘active labour market’ policies operated in low-skilled employment markets in more developed countries will promote inclusive growth, and asks for ‘income transfers that do not undermine work incentives in the current context’ (p. 183). Chapter 8 describes vocational training as social investment; and chapter 9 asks that every area of social policy (healthcare, education, social services, etc.) should work together across the whole life course to further a social investment agenda. Chapter 10 finds that the fact that

more inclusive societies (either in terms of income or health) affects growth positively is reassuring on the one hand, but still puzzling on the other, because even though we find significant correlation we cannot claim causation from our data. (p. 247)

Chapter 10 also finds that more traditional ‘social protection’ programmes function as social investments and facilitate inclusive development; and that an increasing number of international institutions now recognise that ‘many more governments are committed to using social protection to reduce poverty, invest in people, and achieve economic and development goals’ (p. 267). Chapter 11 shows how policies aimed at ‘social protection’ can also represent ‘social investment; and chapter 12 discusses a tendency at the end of the last century to concentrate social investment on children and on employment market activation, and to employ a variety of institutional means (including the private sector) to meet policy goals.

Chapter 13 qualifies much that has gone before by revisiting limits to growth: a chapter that probably ought to be have been earlier in the volume. The editors’ concluding chapter finds that innovative ‘social investment’ social policy is generated more by developing countries than by developed ones characterised by ‘austerity economics’, and they suggest that both social investment and inclusive growth perspectives will be essential to the global social policy framework that we now need and that we can see emerging.

What is particularly interesting about this book is the way in which its diverse contributions are all evidence for new perspectives emerging from within current social and economic policy: the new evolving out of the old rather than coming from elsewhere to replace it, and at the same time being genuinely new. The same might be said of Citizen’s Basic Income, which can be understood as both an evolution from within current tax and benefits policy, and as the emergence of something new. Perhaps both the social investment approach and Citizen’s Basic Income are elements of a new paradigm. As an old paradigm hits problems, new ideas emerge and eventually coalesce into the new paradigm that the situation requires.

The editors suggest that the social policy trends that emerge from their volume do not yet represent a ‘grand economic theory’ to displace neoliberal austerity economics (p. 324): but perhaps they do. As they suggest, ‘universal’, ‘rights based’, ‘inclusive’, and ‘social protection’ might be replacing the ‘safety net’ ethos of today’s social policy. The trends that they have noted fit this new model, and so does Citizen’s Basic Income; the new tendency for development studies and social policy to work together that these authors have noticed is precisely a characteristic of the Citizen’s Basic Income debate; and the need for social policy and economics to work together that the authors note is already an aspect of research on Citizen’s Basic Income. Three of the authors discuss conditional cash transfers, and two mention studies that show that unconditional transfers are just as effective, but there is no mention of either the Namibian or the Indian Citizen’s Basic Income pilot projects. While conditional cash transfers might represent steps towards a new social policy paradigm, it is Citizen’s Basic Income that would represent the new paradigm itself. Perhaps if a second edition of the book is ever considered, a chapter might be given to such genuinely universal provisions as the UK’s National Health Service, Citizen’s Pensions in various countries, unconditional child benefits, and experiments with unconditional incomes for working age adults, for it is these that best represent the new global social policy for which the editors and authors of this book are seeking.