The Changing Welfare State in Europe

The Changing Welfare State in Europe

The Implications for Democracy

Edited by David G. Mayes and Anna Michalski

The welfare state in Europe has been reformed gradually over the past two decades, with the intensification of the economic and monetary union and the addition of fifteen new members to the EU. This book explores the pressures that have been placed on the welfare state through a variety of insightful and thought-provoking contributions.

Chapter 4: Active social policies, inclusion and democracy in the European Union

Mark Thomson

Subjects: politics and public policy, environmental politics and policy, social policy and sociology, comparative social policy, welfare states


Social policies are an important feature of democracy. In many instances, they have developed into social rights that are seen to deepen the ëhollowí character of democracy (Giddens, 1996). Without social policies that invest in childrenís education or workersí pensions, or provide a safety net in times of personal crisis (e.g., unemployment or illness), levels of abject poverty and social exclusion grow. Social policies hence try to contain the adverse effects of human difference by compensating for inequalities that exist between people at different stages in their lives. They are intended to be welfare enhancing, especially for more socially vulnerable individuals, and to keep people attached to their local and national communities. Yet, the outcome of social policies is not always positive. Social policies can be socially divisive when they are seen to benefit some people over (or, indeed, at the expense of) others. They can also cause harm to the very same people they are supposed to help if they lead to dependency on social support instead of personal autonomy. These associated risks are increasingly recognized in the case of social policies for the unemployed. Long-term dependency on state benefits has been identified with diminished work skills, lack of self-respect, and loss of confidence and motivation (Sen, 1997), all of which increase the likelihood of permanent exclusion from the labour market ñ of particular concern when considering the high incidence of youth unemployment in many European countries.

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