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Sociology, Social Policy and CriminologyPart of Economic, Social and Political Science

Future trends in welfare under the spotlight

Published: 21 July 2008

Traditional patterns of employment and welfare are changing across the world.

Government has traditionally played a key role within welfare states. However, changes occurring during the last few decades such as devolution, the growing importance of supranational bodies and public sector management reforms have challenged the role of central governments. As a result, the following questions are now being raised:

  • Are welfare states becoming increasingly 'de-centred'?
  • What contributes most to ‘de-centration’? The devolution of social policy responsibilities? or their transfer to supranational bodies such as the
  • European Union? or the fact that the private and voluntary sector take on an increasingly important role in delivering social policies?
  • Are similar trends occurring in different countries?
  • If welfare states become more de-centred, will that lead to more unequal access to welfare services across regions? Will this lead to increasing social inequalities?'

The de-centration of the welfare state refers to two parallel processes.

Firstly, state power is 'rescaled', meaning it is shifted both up- and downwards through the evolution of supranational polities such as the European Union and decentralisation within states.

Secondly, national and sub-national governments increasingly share policy-making and implementation with private and voluntary sector organisations, through stakeholder involvement during policy-making and out-contracting. In the UK, for example, the labour market programmes are delivered by private enterprises in specifically targeted areas with high unemployment (known as 'employment zones').

Dr Milena Büchs from the University of Southampton and Dr Mariely Lopéz-Santana from the George Mason University, USA, are examining the de-centration of the welfare state by analysing the rescaling of labour market policy as well as the increasing use of the private and voluntary sectors in policy delivery in Germany, the UK, Italy, Spain and the USA. To date, they have conducted a series of interviews with policy-makers in these countries and have presented their research at a number of conferences in Europe and the USA.

The empirical research is ongoing and the publication of the first journal articles is planned for Spring 2009. The research is funded by the University of Southampton and George Mason University, which is renowned for interdisciplinary studies and research in global affairs.

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