Government, Governance and Welfare Reform: Structural Changes and Subsidiarity in Italy and Britain, by Alberto Brugnoli and Alessandro Colombo

Edward Elgar, 2012, 1 84844 477 5, hbk, xii + 183 pp, £65

Fundamental to the argument of this book are two different varieties of subsidiarity: what the authors call ‘vertical subsidiarity’: the idea that authority should be exercised at the lowest possible level in a hierarchy of authorities; and ‘horizontal subsidiarity’: the requirement that higher authorities should resource lower-level authorities to pursue the activity over which they have authority, including the resourcing of individuals and households to pursue their own chosen goals. ‘Network accountability and resourcing’, whilst being more of a mouthful, might be a more accurate expression of what the authors intend by ‘horizontal subsidiarity’: a multi-directional distribution of competences and resources across individuals, households, local communities, private sector companies, voluntary organisations, and public authorities.

The book’s first section is more theoretical in nature, and studies concepts relating to governance and subsidiarity; the second section charts the increasing relevance of regions within countries as opposed to nation states; and the third section studies recent changes in welfare state governance – and here UK readers will be particularly interested in Helen Haugh’s study of social enterprise involvement in health service delivery, and Martin Powell’s comparison of sometimes quite radical vertical and horizontal subsidiarity in Lombardy and the increasing involvement of private sector and voluntary sector organisations in welfare provision in the UK.

The fourth section of the book studies ways in which national governments have resourced households and individuals to take responsibility for their own welfare. Of particular interest will be Julian Le Grand’s chapter, in which he discusses the design of quasi-markets in welfare delivery, how to ensure equity of provision in a quasi-market context, and why such asset-based welfare instruments as child trust funds should be universal.

Tax and benefits were not on the agenda of the group of scholars convened by the Institute for Research, Statistics and Training in Lombardy to research and write this volume. If a further volume tackles this subject then a chapter might usefully be given to an impending experiment in the UK. Since the nineteenth century, social security benefits have been a nation state competence ( – as in most countries, although sometimes aspects of schemes will be devolved to the next layer down, as in the US). Policy and regulations are set at national level even when administration is managed locally, as with Housing Benefit. The UK government has now decided to localise Council Tax Benefit policy and regulations at the same time as it combines national in-work and out-of-work means-tested benefits in order to enhance employment incentives. It will be interesting, and perhaps painful, to watch the consequences of the interaction of a nationally regulated Universal Credit and a locally regulated Council Tax Benefit.

If the Institute does publish a volume on tax and benefits, then the editors might conclude that there are some aspects of welfare provision ripe for greater subsidiarity, and some that require policy and regulations to be determined at the highest possible level of authority. We have seen trade rules becoming more continental and global, and we are seeing calls for greater European involvement in such fields as food safety; and it might be that at the same time as the governance of such functions as social care and social housing become more local, taxation and benefits policy and regulation should become increasingly global. The editors might also decide that greater subsidiarity and increasing globalisation might in some circumstances benefit each other, and that in particular the best way to promote the ability of households and individuals to fulfil their own chosen goals might be a European or global universal Citizen’s Income.