Social Policy Attitudes and Social Capital in Europe
Edited by Heikki Ervasti, Jørgen Goul Andersen, Torben Fridberg and Kristen Ringdal
Chapter 12: Who Hates the Welfare State? Criticism of the Welfare State in Europe
Heikki Ervasti INTRODUCTION AND RESEARCH QUESTION A well-known fact is that the results of attitude surveys depend on the way the questions are formulated. The way you ask determines the answers you get. This equally applies to studies on welfare attitudes. Recent studies have generated several widely used attitude indicators which can be considered highly reliable. Most of these indicators are intended to be neutral, i.e. not reflecting any normative starting points. However, many of the indicators actually refer to the positive aspects of the welfare state, such as equality, well-being, generosity and the wide coverage of social security benefits and public services. Undoubtedly, it is reasonable to suspect that survey questions formatted in a positive manner may generate overly positive results. More emphasis should perhaps be laid on the negative aspects of the welfare state. Indeed, in public discussions, emphasis is often placed on an array of the negative aspects of social policies. These include adverse economic effects of the welfare state, such as high employment costs and high taxation, but also certain procedural problems including welfare fraud and the insufficiency of benefits. Moreover, certain individual moral consequences of the welfare state are often criticized. The welfare state may be seen as an over-patronizing system that makes people lazy and less caring towards each other and themselves, and which is beneficial only to those who are not willing to take full responsibility for their lives. The starting point of this chapter is that the critical viewpoints should be taken...
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