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James Midgley

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James Midgley

The renewal of interest in inequality is the theme of the Introduction to the book which notes that the topic is now being widely discussed in academic and political circles after having been neglected for many years. Although numerous policy proposals for reducing inequality have been formulated, the role of social protection has received little attention and the Introduction points out that the book seeks to fill this gap by considering how different schemes (including social insurance, social assistance, universal benefits, employer mandates and tax credits, among others) can be used by policymakers to promote social justice. The Introduction also provides chapter summaries to guide readers.

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James Midgley

Chapter 1 examines the way inequality has been defined in different academic disciplines. Unidimensional approaches which focus on one type of inequality – such as income – are contrasted with multidimensional interpretations which include gender, ethnic, spatial, status and other disparities. It proposes that income inequality – which has been the focus of much of the literature – serves as a useful proxy for inequality. It offers its own definition based on the notion of hierarchical differentiation but makes the point that the concept of social justice is often invoked to determine whether differences between people and groups can be legitimated on the grounds of fairness and equity. Reviewing different definitions of social justice, the chapter contends that in addition to legal equity and equity of opportunity, proactive policies which foster equity of results are required. These policies promote equality by reducing the ‘distance’ between those who are privileged and disadvantaged.

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James Midgley

Although inequality is often regarded as a static condition, Chapter 2 observes that it has changed over the years and is amenable to policy intervention. It offers a global, historical overview of inequality, showing how natural events, as well as wars and epidemics, have affected inequality. However, it observes that purposeful government action has played a major role in shaping inequality, especially during the twentieth century. Contrary to the view that inequality is the result of ‘natural’ social and economic forces, it contends that inequality is a human construct which is amenable to policy intervention. Before discussing the major policy approaches which have been adopted to reduce inequality, the major ‘drivers’ or factors responsible for changing inequality are discussed since these should be addressed through policy intervention.

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James Midgley

Chapter 3 asks how the problem of inequality can be addressed. It makes the case for egalitarianism which it defines as the advocacy of policies that promote social justice. The role of redistribution in achieving egalitarianism is examined and the views of those who vigorously oppose the use of redistribution for this purpose are discussed. Their arguments are countered by an understanding of the benefits of egalitarianism, including its positive moral, social, political and economic effects. Although it is often argued that a commitment to equality undermines freedom and harms economic growth, the chapter contends that equality has many benefits. Policies that promote equality include the enforcement of legal rights, the realization of opportunities and the achievement of equitable outcomes. The chapter contends that they need to be linked to wider interventions that promote economic growth and raise standards of living.

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James Midgley

Chapter 4 examines different definitions of social protection and notes that the term has replaced older synonyms such as social security and income protection. It emphasizes social protection’s role in meeting people’s financial needs through either maintaining or subsidizing income. The major types of social protection, including social insurance, social assistance, universal benefits, employer mandates and tax credits are discussed. Recent poverty alleviation innovations, such as conditional cash transfers and categorical means tested pensions and universal allowances are also examined. These have been given high priority in the Global South, and their expansion over the last 20 years has been truly remarkable. The different normative perspectives that inform social protection policies are examined and it contends that an egalitarian approach based on social rights is best suited to achieving social justice through social protection.

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James Midgley

Chapter 5 provides an historical overview of the evolution of social protection tracing the emergence of the first social assistance programs and discussing the history of social insurance, employer mandates and universal benefits. It discusses the expansion of social protection in the nineteenth century when the first statutory social insurance programs were introduced and when social assistance was expanded. The role of the International Labour Organization (ILO) in promoting social security is examined. It then traces the remarkable expansion of social protection in the Global South since the 1990s which has now been recognized as an effective way of alleviating poverty and achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

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James Midgley

Chapter 6 discusses the goals of social protection and draws extensively on empirical research to determine the extent to which these goals have been met. Social protection’s impact on incomes and living standards is examined and numerous studies are cited to show that it has been successful in meeting income needs and raising living standards. Social protection’s economic impact is considered and contrary to the widely accepted claim that it harms economic growth, the chapter shows that it has contributed positively to development. Next, the chapter examines social protection’s political impact and, finally, attention is paid to its wider social effects. Although a good deal of evidence is produced to show that social protection overall impact has been positive, claims about its limitations are also discussed.

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James Midgley

Chapter 7 examines the concept of redistribution which it points out requires proactive, redistributive interventions that modify the allocation of primary goods through the market or traditional arrangements. However, it shows that redistribution involves complex resource flows which do not always promote equality. These different redistributive effects are examined with reference to different types of social protection schemes, and their impact on income as well as gender and other forms of inequality are discussed. The chapter then reviews empirical evidence concerning the way social protection in different countries (Brazil, South Africa and the United States) currently redistributes resources. Although limited, research on the redistributive impact of social assistance, social insurance, universal allowances, mandates and other schemes in different parts of the world are summarized.

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James Midgley

Chapter 8 asks how social protection’s role in promoting equality can be enhanced. Affirming a normative commitment to a rights-based egalitarian approach, it proposes that a centralized social protection agency with authority and adequate resources be established to manage the social protection system and initiate a long-term planning process that coordinates different schemes. It should ensure that the country’s social protection system is appropriate to local economic and social conditions and take the lead in addressing the challenges facing social protection. Extending coverage so that the whole population is included should be given high priority. Universal rather than selective schemes should be prioritized and discriminatory practices that negatively affect women, ethnic minorities, immigrants and others must be eliminated. To promote social justice, governments should ensure that social protection is inclusive, adequate and efficient, and available to all as a right of citizenship.