Welfare State Futures: Our Children’s Europe
WelfSOC examines the aspirations, assumptions and priorities that govern the ideas of ordinary people about the future development of welfare in Europe. It relies on innovative deliberative forums and focus groups in order to investigate attitudes towards the future of the welfare state.
Five deliberative forums were conducted by the research teams in Denmark, Germany, Norway, Slovenia and the United Kingdom between October and November 2015. These two-day events, organised with the help of national research agencies, gave the opportunity for participants to reflect on the future of the welfare state and address the following question: “What should the priorities of the government in [country] be for benefits and services in 2040?” Early findings suggest that the discussion at such events generates attitude changes among participants, in relation to their ideas about government responsibility, welfare chauvinism and the part to be played by the individual. It also indicates that the justifications for different policies differ between countries and this can be related to national welfare state traditions and regime types. The data will be analysed further during the next few months in order to produce comparative research papers and a book which will sum up the project’s findings and examine the benefits of the innovative research method.
The first major publication related to this project is a book entitled After Austerity: The Future of the Welfare State: New Cleavages and Solidarities in Europe, which will be published by Oxford University Press in 2017. This book, co-edited by the co-ordinating team (Peter Taylor-Gooby, Benjamin Leruth and Heejung Chung), conceptualises policy responses to the Great Recession across Europe and offers a wide range of empirical chapters written by WelfSOC members and external contributors.
The next stage of the WelfSOC project uses focus groups conducted in the five countries in order to investigate the issues of solidarity, responsibility and deservingness. These focus groups were carried out in October and November 2016. The data is currently being coded and shared between the research teams.
This project is designed to find out how people think about the future of welfare in five European countries (Denmark, Germany, Norway, Slovenia and the UK). Most research on ideas, aspirations and attitudes is concerned with specific topics predefined by experts. We asked a very general question ‘What do you think the priorities of the [country’s] government should be for benefits and services in 25 years’ time?’ We then gave a group of some 35 people in each country the opportunity to discuss and develop the policies they would like to see over two days with the minimum of direction. The countries were selected to include examples of the most important welfare state traditions in Europe.
We analysed audio and video-recordings of the discussions and found that most people:
- Want the main welfare state programmes to continue, although they have real concerns about cost
- Are generally concerned about increasing social inequalities
- Want to see more money spent by governments on childcare, training and education, so that young people in particular have better opportunities and society is fairer
- Are concerned about immigration and in particular about the importance of integrating immigrants into western societies
- Believe that generations should support each other by transferring money between them, with people paying taxes at the working stage of their life to support those who are retired or have commitments to bring up children or establish themselves in work. In richer countries, older people feel that the benefits of the contract may have been directed too much towards themselves
Our work has received a lot of attention from academic communities across Europe and provides a new method for use in attitude research. We also offer policy-makers and government a method for consulting people on policy issues.