Poverty and Social Exclusion in Europe, by Matt Barnes et al

(Edward Elgar, 2002, £45). Order this book
In this book an international group of researchers use European Community Household Panel data to explore the extent and nature of social exclusion in Europe. They concentrate on six countries: Austria and Germany (with ‘corporatist’ welfare states characterised by status-preserving benefit regimes aimed at families), Norway (with a ‘social-democratic’ welfare system characterised by high levels of benefit aimed at individuals and funded out of taxation), the UK (with a ‘liberal’ welfare state characterised by low flat-rate and means-tested benefits) and Greece and Portugal (with rudimentary welfare states characterised by minimal welfare policies) – though they recognise that no country’s system is a pure type, and that rapid social and economic change is causing change in every country’s tax and benefit system.
In chapter 1, Matt Barnes defines social exclusion as multi-dimensional, dynamic, relational and disruptive of social relationships, and he locates this study in the context of other recent studies; in chapter 2, Panos Tsakloglou and Fotis Papadopoulos discuss the methodology which the researchers use to investigate the extent and kinds of social exclusion and its relationship to low incomes; in chapters 3 to 6 Sue Middleton, Jane Millar and Chris Heady look in detail at four at-risk groups: young adults, lone parents, sick and disabled people, and retired people. In the final chapter Chris Heady and Graham Room discuss policy implications.
In each chapter, data is carefully discussed, detailed conclusions are drawn, and over-generalisations are avoided. Of particular interest to contemporary debate in this country is Jane Millar’s conclusion to the chapter on lone parenthood, in which she points out that policy is moving away from the ‘male breadwinner’ to the ‘adult worker’, and concludes from the data and her discussion of it that “employment does not ….. always protect against poverty. Support for working parents – in both cash and kind – will also be required, if poverty in work is to be avoided” (p.100). In relation to Europe as a whole, Sue Middleton draws the conclusion that “whilst the extent of poverty in old age varies from country to country, those who experience it are the same – the oldest and those living alone” (p.145), and Christopher Heady concludes that “policies in all countries have not prevented sick and disabled people from experiencing greater deprivation than other adults” (p.122). These are all things which we thought we knew. In this book we have data, analysis and discussion which ground the conclusions in solid evidence.
The final chapter draws careful and detailed conclusions from the study as a whole. One general conclusion is that educational achievement and employment help to prevent poverty, and another is that those who live alone are more likely to experience poverty. ‘Employability’ and ‘equal opportunities’ are already high on the European Union’s agenda, and the authors conclude that the results of their research show that it should stay that way. Three particular issues which the European Commission are currently discussing are the individualisation of social rights, the combining of minimum income benefits with active pathways into the labour market, and the sustainability of public pension schemes. The authors rightly state that their research and findings are relevant to these discussions.
The authors do not make specific policy recommendations: they clearly did not understand this to be their brief. But if it is true that household-based means-tested or contributory benefits are not going to promote ease of access to the labour market, equal opportunities, the individualisation of social rights, or income security in old age, and that individualised non-means-tested benefits are bound to do so, then at least a tentative suggestion that future policy discussion might run along these lines would have been in order.
This is a book packed full of data, high-quality discussion and justifiable conclusions. Highly recommended for anyone interested in the debate on poverty and social exclusion in Europe.