Social Exclusion in European Welfare States, by Ruud J.A. Muffels, Panos Tsakloglou and David G. Mayes (eds.)

Edward Elgar, 2002, xxii + 366 pp., hb., 1 8464 803 1, £65. Order this book

A book of papers by a variety of different authors is sometimes simply that: the filling of a gap in the market with a book of disparate contributions, with little to co-ordinate them except for their relationship with the title of the book. This is not the case here. This substantial collection of papers has resulted from the authors’ co-operation on the EU-funded project entitled ‘Social Exclusion and Social Protection: The Future Role of the EU’ (EXSPRO). The project’s researchers have sought connections between economic performance, labour market performance, and social inclusion/exclusion, and the book “explores the role and performance of welfare states and employment regimes in preventing and combating income poverty, relative deprivation and social exclusion and promoting labour market and social integration” (p.xviii).

In order to explore to what extent the EU can contribute to social protection at the same time as respecting subsidiarity, the authors (not all of whom are directly involved in the EXSPRO project) examine concepts and values, processes and policies.

Part I is on ‘labour market integration in European employment regimes’, and it tackles macroeconomic factors which contribute to social exclusion, employment regimes, and the flexibilisation of labour markets. Part II is on ‘social exclusion in European welfare states’, and there are papers on identifying high-risk groups, the nature of social exclusion, the measurement of poverty, and the ways in which different welfare regimes affect levels and types of social exclusion. Part III draws lessons for European social policy, mainly in relation to employment regimes and such labour market policies as the USA’s experiment with workfare, which, in the view of Waltraud Schelkle, “does not provide templates for reforms to combat social exclusion in Europe but [which] entails important lessons nonetheless” (p.307).
The careful research represented by chapters 3 to 9 leads the researchers to summarise their findings in a table, thus:

Generous benefits (‘much security’) Low benefits (‘little security’)
Loose regulation (‘much flexibility’) Social-democratic Scandinavian regime Liberal Anglo-Saxon regime
Tight regulation (‘little flexibility’) Corporatist Continental European regime Traditionalist Southern European Regime

These results have obvious implications for national policy-making.

The concluding chapter concentrates on ways of encouraging people into the labour market. It notes that welfare regimes with less developed social security systems and strong employment protection regulations (and thus low turnover) are particularly bad at reducing unemployment, leading to the recommendation that “reinforcing the incentive structure of the system is still important in its own right as a means of fostering economic growth and employment creation” (p.328). But ‘incentive structure’ can mean a variety of things, and what has been discussed just before this quotation is Denmark’s “activation and workfare strategy” (p.328). What is largely absent from the discussion, and from the collection as a whole, is detailed discussion of how particular benefits systems affect labour market incentives. This is not surprising, as social security systems are an entirely national issue. But the concluding chapter recognises that this is a problem, with the implication that a little more EU involvement in an issue which impacts on the mobility of labour throughout the economic community might not be a bad thing.

What would be valuable from this research project or its successor would be discussion of precisely which social security benefit types would provide the necessary labour market incentives and would otherwise reduce social exclusion, and whether a European approach to the issue might not be overdue.

Some final food for thought from near the end of chapter 9: “Egalitarian regimes perform a better job in preventing poverty and deprivation, but at the cost – although not much – of economic efficiency in terms of attaining high levels of economic welfare ….. [and] the fact that countries whose policies are more balanced in terms of prioritising social as well as economic goals prove to be more successful in tackling social misfortune than others is clearly a conclusion supported by the findings” (pp.229, 231).