NORFACE WSF Final Conference

NORFACE Welfare State Futures Programme Final Conference, 24-25 May 2018, Florence


The Final Conference of the Welfare State Futures programme took place last week at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy, one of the leading research institutions in the areas of European studies and policy research.

One hundred and forty-one researchers and stakeholders from all over Europe attended the cross-disciplinary conference to debate current challenges and the way forward for European welfare states. Research results from the programme were discussed in 26 different panel sessions across all cluster of the WSF programme, reaching from the areas of health policy and child and family welfare over migration to globalization, welfare states and inequalities, and the question of welfare state attitudes of citizens.

The goals of the conference were multifaceted: One of the key aims was certainly to bring together research results from the different policy areas and to discuss them with peers, but also to identify common issues and patterns across projects, as well as global trends in European welfare and social policy. Bringing together researchers from all projects allowed participants to find intersections between their fields and to lay the basis for synergies in future research.

However, one of the main targets of the conference was also to go beyond identifying challenges and highlighting the policy implications of Welfare State Futures research in order to point out the way forward for European welfare states. That is why the conference invited practitioners from different key institutions such as the European Commission, the OECD, the WHO as well as different think tanks and ministries to participate, and provided a forum for exchange between researchers and practitioners to jointly discuss solutions to pressing problems of welfare states.

Overall, the image that evolved from the conference is that the welfare state has by no means lost the significance that it has had during the entire in the 20th century. Panelist Anton Hemerijck (Professor of Political Science and Sociology, EUI) accurately formulated this assessment in the final roundtable as “the welfare state is here to stay.” One of the findings refuting the dominating idea of the European welfare state in crisis comes from the research into preferences and attitudes which actually show continued support for welfare.

Nevertheless, it also became apparent that European welfare states will have to adapt to the manifold challenges they have been facing over the last years, such as the diversification of their residents. Consequently, many of the discussions evolved around the question whether to pursue a universal or targeted approach to social policy. While universal welfare state policies have long been upheld as a goal of progressive welfare states, some discussants argued that a one-size-fits-all approach to welfare is no longer adequate for addressing increasing and multi-dimensional sources of inequalities, as well as the manifold and complex issues that some people face.

To that end, what will be important will be listening more carefully to what people think about the welfare state. This was one of the points raised by final roundtable panelist Jet Bussemaker (Former Dutch Minister of Education, Culture and Science) who concluded that “we have to make different voices better heard”. In fact, research particularly from the Welfare State Attitudes Cluster showed that what practitioners and ordinary citizens thought did not necessarily align. There was also considerable variation in preferences between different countries, but also within countries. A future challenge of welfare states will be to bring together policies and citizens, but also different populations.

European welfare states might also have to re-conceptualize the relationship between European and national instruments. This point was highlighted particularly by keynote speaker Maurizio Ferrera (Università degli Studi di Milano) in the opening plenary panel where he presented his visionary idea of piecing together a European Social Union.

While the Welfare State Futures final conference pointed to some important  steps towards reform and re-conceptualization, it also demonstrated the need for long-term visions and novel solutions in the area of welfare. Much remains to do, and through having built a European network of researchers from all areas of policy, the Welfare State Futures programme will continue contributing to the process of re-thinking the Welfare State even in the future.

Selection of Presented Research

Daniel Degen, MIFARE | Universität Konstanz | Daniel.Degen (at)

Contribution and Redistribution. Immigrants’ attitudes towards taxation and social assistance in Germany

MIFARE Daniel Degen Universität Konstanz
Daniel Degen

Welfare states finance their welfare services commonly by insurance-based contributions and taxes.  As one of the main aims of the welfare state is to overcome inequalities and to enhance social cohesion, it is important to understand how contributions and redistributions are evaluated by the population. In this regard, the opinion of immigrants as a growing group in most Western countries should be taken into account as well. To study attitudes towards the taxation of high incomes and  the amount of social assistance of nine immigrant groups and the native population, the German sub-sample of the MIFARE data set was analyzed. The findings show that all immigrant groups perceive taxes for high incomes as “about right.” However, natives do evaluate these taxes as too low compared to immigrants. Looking at whether the government should spend more or less money on social assistance the picture is less clear. Natives end up in between the immigrant groups. This implies that immigrants are not necessarily more in favor of welfare redistribution. Regarding possible explanations, the results illustrate that the individual situation plays a crucial role: immigrants and natives with higher incomes are less in favor of higher taxes and higher spending on social assistance. Furthermore, a socialization effect has been found in terms of a stronger preference for higher taxes and spending for social assistance, if the immigrants come from a country with high welfare expenditures. Overall, the results suggest that immigrants are not inevitably more supportive of welfare redistribution than natives and that it is important to distinguish between specific immigrant groups as they show rather diverse patterns in their attitudes.

Jana Fingarova, TRANSWEL | Brandenburg University of Technology Cottbus-Senftenberg | Jana.Fingarova (at)

Mobile EU Citizens’ Inequality Experiences: Barriers in Accessing Social Security and the Informal Social Protection Strategies of Bulgarian Movers

This presentation based on project TRANSWEL findings aims to show a typology of agency articulations (subordinated, gradually assertive, and empowered) of mobile Bulgarians in respect to their formal social protection, the barriers they encounter when they access or port social security benefits; and what strategies they develop to overcome them related to their mobility projects.

Mobile Bulgarians experienced barriers on the level of institutional regulations and practices (the frames of EU-regulations and national institutional practices). To give an example, these are differences in national systems for health, pension, family benefits, unemployment but also bureaucracy, characterized by long-waiting periods, unsmooth running of inter-institutional communication), no mutual recognition of documents (besides the EU forms) etc., that can hinder EU citizens to claim their social rights.  Secondly, on the level of organisations and interpersonal networks, our observations showed the lack of support networks, such as experts, migrant organisations, community projects etc., that can ‘translate’ the system for the migrants and help them navigate through it.  Thirdly, the level of individual imaginations of mobility projects is also important as to answer what is the difference in strategies mobile individual use in order to claim social security.  Thus, in the ‘subordinated’ interviews, applying for social assistance is considered shameful and humiliating. Interviewees would rather work second or third jobs, also undocumented, than rely on any kind of state social protection.  This avoidance of claiming was in connection to the temporary character of their mobility projects. In the ‘gradually assertive’ and ‘empowered’ interviews, legal working contracts (even when downgrading was unavoidable) were of high priority and in seldom occasions applying for benefits of social assistance was their choice, the application was only used when no other options were present or as a strategy to further or re-qualification.

Concluding, the awareness of social rights depends strongly on the initial motivation about the mobility project (permanent vs temporary), but is also strongly shaped by institutional practices that can lead to disadvantages for the migrants in terms of their transnational organisation of social protection.

Bjorn Hvinden, WelfSOC | Oslo Metropolitan University | bjorn.hvinden (at)
Mi Ah Schoyen, WelfSOC | Oslo Metropolitan University | miah.schoyen (at)
Ida Tolgensbakk | Oslo Metropolitan University | ida.tolgensbakk (at)

Demands for public and occupational welfare in contemporary political economies: A threecountry comparison of public attitudes towards workers’ social rights and responsibilities

Although the spread of non-standard (or atypical) employment relationships has implications for workers’ employment conditions and their access to social protection, we have relatively little knowledge about how people reason about this trend. It is relevant to ask what ordinary people see as the most problematic aspects and what they worry about in this regard. The legitimacy of welfare reforms hinges in part on whether they address these concerns. Moreover, assessments of contemporary labour market and social policy reforms should be informed by knowledge about what the kind of policy solutions people desire in response to the flexibility that is now expected of workers in many occupational sectors. Our paper asks what ordinary people see as employer responsibilities and what they expect of the state. The paper, thus, aims to inform the broader ongoing debate about ‘how much state intervention is necessary and desirable and priorities for welfare state reform’.

Our approach is comparative, drawing primarily on qualitative data (from democratic forums and focus groups) collected in three longstanding and mature European welfare states – Germany, Norway and the United Kingdom – as part of the NORFACE project ‘Welfare State Futures: Our Children’s Europe’ (WelfSoc). These countries are classical examples of different welfare state regimes or ‘welfare mixes’.

Three main themes emerged in the qualitative material:

  1. Burden-sharing: Paying for and providing social protection and decent working/employment conditions should be a common responsibility.
  2. Adequate/decent wages for all: All jobs should provide an income that allow workers to earn enough to provide for themselves without needing additional income from the welfare state
  3. Work-life balance: The implications for family life and planning were identified as one of the main problems of non-standard employment relationships. Too often it is difficult to combine work

Nora Regös, TRASNWEL | German University of Administrative Sciences Speyer | regoes (at)

Navigating the Labyrinths of Social Security Systems: Dispositions, experienced barriers and welfare learning of EU migrants with portability of and access to social rights

Bild_Nora Regös-1
Nora Regös

In this presentation, Nora Regös discussed first results of the paper that analyses comparatively the experiences with accessing and porting social security rights of EU internal migrants moving within one of the four analysed country pairs (Hungary-Austria, Poland-UK, Bulgaria-Germany, Estonia-Sweden). The aim of this presentation was to provide insights into mobile Europeans’ transnational life worlds closely tied to their experiences of accessing (transnational) social security including portability of social rights. Depicting the most salient aspects shared by all the country pairs along with characteristics specific for each individual country pair, the paper proposes the conceptual lens of labyrinths in order to reach a better understanding of migrants’ main – yet complex as well as differing – experiences and meaning-making processes with regards to (transnational) social security. Confronted with difficulties in the labyrinths when trying to secure social welfare, specific – also transnational – coping strategies come to the fore as well. As argued in the presentation, these coping strategies differ though according to migrants` own assumptions towards the welfare state, welfare knowledge that might change over time (called as welfare learning), and varying experiences with external barriers, such as the discretionary power of the officials at the local level of administration. The presentation concludes that social inequalities are highly reproduced by the complexity and the ambiguousness of most regulations within the EU social security systems. Free movement as one corner stone of the European Union thus needs to be re-evaluated in light of our empirical results: the labyrinths are such that many Europeans cannot secure their social security even if they are employed and contributing to the social security systems of the EU countries they are (transnationally) living in.

The presentation was based on qualitative research findings from the three-year TRANSWEL project and on the paper written by Elisabeth Scheibelhofer, Clara Holzinger, and Nora Regös.

Federica Rossetti, WelfSOC | University of Leuven |
Tijs Laenen, WelfSOC | University of Leuven |
Wim van Oorschot,  WelfSOC | University of Leuven |

The institutional logic of welfare distribution preferences. A qualitative analysis of deservingness discussions among citizens in three welfare regimes

Federica Rossetti

The ever-growing research field of welfare deservingness is in need of qualitative research. This paper aims to bring a contribution in this direction, using data from focus groups conducted by the WelfSOC teams in three different welfare regimes – UK, Germany and Denmark. Our final goal is to unravel which deservingness criteria citizens apply when discussing welfare distribution, and what concrete meaning such abstract criteria have to them. What we know from the welfare deservingness theory is that citizens reckon with five criteria (control, attitude, reciprocity, identity, and need) to justify what constitutes a fair distribution of welfare funds among various policy target groups (van Oorschot, 2000). Our analyses show that the focus group participants applied the criteria of control, reciprocity and need, but not attitude and identity. Participants also articulated a number of alternative normative criteria, such as equality and social investment, which refer to the broader context instead of welfare target characteristics. Furthermore, our findings suggest the existence of an ‘institutional logic’ to welfare preferences, as the focus group participants to some extent echoed the normative criteria that are most strongly embedded in the institutional structure of their country’s welfare regime. Whereas financial need was the guiding criterion in ‘liberal’ UK, reciprocity was dominant in ‘corporatist-conservative’ Germany. In ‘social-democratic’ Denmark, it proved impossible to single out one dominant normative criterion. Instead, the Danish participants seemed torn between the criteria of need, reciprocity, and equality.

Selection of Presented Projects

Highlights from the EXCELC project

The EXCELC (Exploring Comparative Effectiveness and efficiency in Long-term care) study team presented a range of papers exploring different aspects of the comparative effectiveness and efficiency of non-institutional forms of long-term care (LTC). By non-institutional LTC, we are primarily referring to home-based care services where care workers visit the homes of frail and disabled older people to help them with activities of daily living, such as getting dressed, washing and feeding. Such services are provided to improve the quality of life of the older person and to prevent or slow (to some extent) further deterioration in health, but they can also have beneficial effects for the close family and friends of the dependent older person who may also be carers for the older person. Comparative research in LTC has tended to focus on describing different systems, but learning across countries is hampered without some understanding of the costs and benefits of the LTC systems. This study represents the first concerted attempt to explore the costs and benefits of different LTC systems.

All of the papers used data collected during the study from older people using home-based care services and their carers in each of the three countries – Austria, England and Finland. As part of the study, the team translated and validated a measurement instrument that is designed to capture the quality of life of people using LTC services.  It is known as ASCOT (Adult Social Care Outcomes Toolkit) and has a service user and an informal carer version.  The team also developed a country-specific preference weights for ASCOT so that the measure reflects the benefit derived from LTC services.  Not only does this development work have value for future studies wishing to evaluate LTC provision, it also meant the study had a dataset that was designed specifically for investigating the effectiveness and efficiency of LTC both within and between the three countries.

Preliminary results have shown limited differences in the quality of life of service users and their carers across the three countries, after controlling for a range of other characteristics that are known to influence quality of life. While there are no differences across the countries for informal carers, the quality of life of service users is marginally better in Austria and England compared to Finland. There were, however, many differences in the characteristics of service users and carers in the data collected across the three countries. These differences are likely to reflect differences in preferences for care and in eligibility for care services across the countries.  We are continuing to explore the relationship between system characteristics, effectiveness and the characteristics of service users and their carers to develop our understanding of how the systems are performing. Part of this work includes exploring the role of other fields of social policy, such as housing policy.

Work on the comparative cost-effectiveness of services and reciprocity in the effect of services on carers and service users is ongoing. Results from England suggest that LTC services are effective, providing greater benefit to people with more care needs. Preliminary results also suggest that there is reciprocity in the relationship between carers’ and service users’ outcomes, but with carers being more affected by service users’ quality of life than vice-versa.

So far our results confirm the value of LTC services for older people and suggest that informal carers also benefit substantially but to a lesser extent from the provision of LTC services.  As we continue to develop our models we will look to compare the cost-effectiveness of services across the three countries. The EXCELC project started in April 2015 and will be completed in August 2018.

The EXCELC project team will be presenting the final results at the Internal Long-term care Policy Network (ILPN) conference in Vienna in September 2018.

Highlights from the WelfSoc project

The WelfSoc “Our Children’s Europe” project presented eight papers at the final conference of the Norface Welfare Futures programme at the European University Institute in Florence on 23-25th May. The project explores what people think will happen to welfare state policy over the next 25 year, and the policies they would like to see.

The papers covered a wide range of issues from the welfare nationalist response to immigration to the increasingly salient debates about conditionality and deservingness, to the paradox between recognition of the needs of refugees and disquiet about immigrants who enter a country because they hope for a better life, to work on redistribution and conditionality, to care provision for both children and older people, to the values that underlie attitudes and constitute a distinctive national moral economies, to the growing importance of employers’ involvement in welfare and the innovative qualitative methods pursued by the project teams.

The overall outcome was a strong impression of the range and complexity of public attitudes, of the importance of immigration issues and of the way policies that account for a relatively small proportion of national budgets such as means-tested provision play a disproportionate role in debates. There is some evidence of a shift in emphasis away from policies directed at the needs of older people (pensions and health care) to the child care, employment and training policies of importance to those at an earlier life-stage, particularly in the richer countries.

Welfsoc group photo
The WelfSoc team

Conference Opinions

Daniel Degen, MIFARE | Universität Konstanz | Daniel.Degen (at)

MIFARE Daniel Degen Universität Konstanz
Daniel Degen

Personally, I think the conference was very nice. The talks gave a broad, but also deep overview of current sociopolitical issues that are relevant not only for a scientific audience, but also for policy makers. The interdisciplinary approaches, the methodological diversity, and the presented projects build a foundation for future research and will stimulate debates about how European welfare states might proceed. Especially, nowadays scientific research should try to provide information about the causes and consequences of welfare state changes and about opinions and preferences of the individuals living in these states.

Comments from the EXCELC project

It was a very stimulating conference covering a broad range of policy areas, with lots of opportunity for discussion and debate.  The beautiful surroundings and lovely weather made it all the more enjoyable!

Jana Fingarova, TRANSWEL | Brandenburg University of Technology Cottbus-Senftenberg | Jana.Fingarova (at)

I found the conference’s inspiring key note speeches by scientists and politicians of great significance to the welfare research in general, because of the possibility to see ‘in live’ how policy making and research can collaborate together.  What inspired me and I ‘took with me’ is that policy makers need beside the pin pointing of problems also more practical suggestions as to how to apply research findings they were made aware of.

I was glad that the organisation made it possible to me to visit all panels that I was interested in, which is hard to achieve in big conferences.  This gave me overall view of many WSF projects and new contacts with many researchers, which I am very thankful for.

Nora Regös, TRASNWEL | German University of Administrative Sciences Speyer | regoes (at)

Bild_Nora Regös-1
Nora Regös

WSF Final Conference provided me with great possibility to share our results with a wider audience – both researchers and policy makers. In addition, I could gather relevant information on other projects working in similar areas. Thus, I could have a lively discussion about the status quo of transnational social protection of EU citizens. Thank you very much for this!



Federica Rossetti, WelfSOC | University of Leuven |

Federica Rossetti

The final conference was a confirmation of the excellent job done by the NORFACE – Welfare State Future team. Everything was perfectly organized, and the chance to exchange ideas with colleagues was great. We are thankful to all the organizers and participants for the opportunity to share the results of our research and for their valuable feedback.