The Changing Welfare State in Europe: The implications for democracy, by David G. Mayes and Anna Michalski

Edward Elgar, 2013, 1 78254 657 3, hbk, xi + 258 pp, £80

As the editors of this collection state in their introduction, improved health, education and housing are now viewed as preconditions for economic growth and not simply as a cost; but

the process of taxing one group in society for the greater good and the benefit of others still remains deeply politically contentious … A badly structured system demotivates the richer in society from increasing their efforts as they are seen to be ‘losing’ too much of the product of that effort to others, while those receiving may feel that there is no great benefit from work and effort as the financial gain is negligible and the loss of time substantial. (p.1)

Each European nation has developed its own distinctive welfare structure rooted in social norms evolved through its own complex history, so even though many of the pressures experienced by European welfare states are similar, and the EU now attempts a limited co-ordinating role in relation to welfare states, the ways in which EU guidance and contemporary pressures have changed both the benefits systems and the governance of European nations can be quite different from one country to another. The picture that emerges is of different countries giving different weights to tax-funded systems, compulsory state insurance systems, and private insurance provision.

Following an introductory chapter, a chapter on the categorisation of welfare states which finds that the accession of new EU member states and increasing globalization have between them compromised the clarity implied by the fourfold ‘Anglo-Saxon’, ‘continental’, ‘Scandinavian’ and ‘Southern’ model. The authors conclude that

there is no single model that applies to welfare regimes. In many cases this applies not just among the EU countries but within each country because they do not treat each aspect of the welfare system in the same manner. (p.50)

Chapter 3 explores the link between social insurance and democratic governance, and finds that ‘Continental’ social insurance schemes administered by trades unions offer a stronger democratic link to their governance than the state-administered British scheme. Chapter 4 finds little democratic governance in relation to active labour market policies, particularly in the UK where the contracting out of labour market activation, and payment by results, prevent democratic engagement, particularly for the private organisations’ clients. Chapter 5 shows how Europe has both adopted and softened US workfare policies; and chapter 6 charts a global trend towards the privatisation of welfare provision, a consequent decline in the democratic accountability, and an increasing mismatch between labour market flexibilisation and policies designed to increase social inclusion. Chapter 7 studies the changing and complex web of organisations involved in health care governance in the UK, and worries about the unaccountability of quangos; and a final chapter worries about the way in which the financial crisis has resulted in increased centralisation in EU policy-making.

‘Universal’ has two entries in the index: one about the ‘universal coverage’ of the Czech Republic’s health insurance scheme, and the other about the UK’s new ‘Universal Credit’. (All of the entries for ‘means testing’ in the index lead to passages about the UK.) ‘Conditionality’ appears in the index, but ‘uncondition-ality’ does not. Indices can be useful guides to the presuppositions underlying the discussion represented by a book’s chapters, and this index does not dis-appoint in this respect. Means-tested, social insurance and private insurance are the benefits system models with which the researchers who have contribut-ed to this book are operating – because those are the models underlying Europe’s benefits systems, as the quotation at the beginning of this review rather suggests. It might have been helpful for at least one chapter to have taken the UK’s NHS and Child Benefit as models for benefits that do not ‘demotivate’ and do not mean that financial gain is ‘negligible’ if earnings rise.