“Sifting the wheat from the chaff”: a two-dimensional discriminant analysis of welfare state regime theory, by Clare Bambra

Social Policy and Administration, volume 41, no.1, February 2007, pp.1-28

There are two ways of categorising welfare states: ‘How much?’ and ‘How?’. In this important article Bambra shows how each of the numerous classification systems which have been offered since the 1950s have weighted these two different facts. She decides that the more useful categorisations are those which take account of both factors.

The problem with this article is that the ‘How?’ question is narrowly constructed, and only amounts to a question as to how much is funded by the state and how much by employers. The important matter of the structure of the entitlement system is not addressed. Yes, employer-funded schemes are contribution-based whereas state-funded systems are generally a mixture of both contribution-based and means-tested systems, so it might look as if the question as to how much the state pays and how much employers pay might act as a proxy for benefits structure, but the way in which means-testing is done and the extent of means-testing are entirely ignored in Bambra’s categorisation, and this can’t be right. To add a third factor, ‘extent of means-testing’, and a fourth, ‘marginal withdrawal rates’, would provide a more useful way of categorising the different approaches to categorisation of welfare states.

A fifth factor is, of course, the extent of universal benefits such as Child Benefit: possibly a more important factor than all of the others when it comes to evaluating a welfare-state’s structure on poverty reduction and labour market effects.