The Social Legitimacy of Targeted Welfare
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The Social Legitimacy of Targeted Welfare

Attitudes to Welfare Deservingness

Edited by Wim van Oorschot, Femke Roosma, Bart Meuleman and Tim Reeskens

This book addresses new perspectives on the perceived popular deservingness of target groups of social services and benefits, offering new insights and analysis to this quickly developing field of welfare attitudes research. It provides an up-to-date state of the art in terms of concepts, theories, research methods and data. The book offers a multi-disciplinary view on deservingness attitudes, with contributions from sociology, political science, media studies and social psychology. It links up with central welfare state debates about the allocation of collective resources between groups with particular needs, and wider categories of need.
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Chapter 2: A Universal Rank Order of Deservingness? Geographical, Temporal and Social-Structural Comparisons

Tijs Laenen and Bart Meuleman


Across the globe, the financial crisis of 2008 stirred up the perception of scarcity among the public and their elected officials. Once again, many societies are in the process of reconsidering their systems of solidarity: to which social groups should the evermore-scant public resources best be allocated? One way to approach this issue is by looking at popular perceptions of needy groups’ welfare deservingness. Much of the relevant literature suggests that this (re)distributional question is in fact a rhetorical one. A recurring assumption in welfare state research is that citizens, in the same way as the welfare states they inhabit, favour differential treatment of needy groups and that a universal rank order of deservingness exists, which transcends all geographical, temporal and social-structural boundaries. This body of thought was first expressed by Coughlin (1980, p. 117), who claimed that the same deservingness ranking could be found in eight countries, the institutional welfare designs of which are assumed to strongly differ from each other. This led him to conclude that there is a ‘universal dimension of support’, in which the elderly are deemed to be most deserving of welfare support, followed by respectively the sick, poor families with children, the unemployed and social assistance clients.

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