Social policy in challenging times
Economic crisis and welfare systems
- Kevin Farnsworth, ZoŽ Irving
- Paperback, 352 pages, 234 x 156 mm
- 21 Sep 2011
£22.39 - List price: £27.99 You save: £5.60
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"The financial crash of 2008 is reshaping welfare systems, but in different and unexpected ways. This book provides a compelling guide."
Andrew Gamble, University of Cambridge
About This Book
There is no precedent to the current economic crisis which looks set to redefine social policy debate throughout the globe. But its effects are not uniform across nations. Bringing together a range of expert contributions, the key lesson to emerge from this book is that 'the crisis' is better understood as a variety of crises, each mediated by national context. Consequently, there is an array of potential trajectories for welfare systems, from those where social policy is regarded as incompatible with the post-crisis economy to those where it is considered essential to future economic growth and security.
Author BiographyKevin Farnsworth is Lecturer in Social Policy at the University of Sheffield. His primary research interests concern power and politics, class struggle and public policy, and the political economy of welfare systems. His first book was entitled Corporate Power and Social Policy (2004), published by Policy Press. Zoë Irving is Lecturer in Comparative Social Policy at the University of Sheffield. Her current research interests focus primarily on social policies in small states and the changing patterns of men's employment. She has previously published in the areas of gender and employment, and social policy in small island states.
Contemplating the implications of the economic crisis for social policy: confusion, contradictions, opportunities and risks ~ Kevin Farnsworth and Zoë
Part one: Coming to terms with the crisis: Towards a new political economy of welfare: The political economy of welfare crisis~ Ian Gough
Economic crises and paradigm change ~ Michael Hill
Polanyi's revenge: re-embedding the market and the challenge for social policy after the crisis ~ Theo Papadopoulos
Social policy and the 'City division of welfare' ~ Adrian Sinfield
Part two: Managing the Crisis: Social Policy-Making in Changing Times: Global social policy responses to the economic crisis ~ Bob Deacon
Poverty, the crisis, and social policy responses~ Armando Barrientos
Crisis, uncertainty and 're-invention' in the making of social policy ~ Rob Hulme
Part three: Understanding and Managing National Crises: South Korea after the 1997 economic crisis: a 'paradigm shift'? ~ Eunna Lee
China's response to crisis: what role for social policy? ~ Sarah Cook and Wing Lam
Familism in turmoil: social policy and the politico-economic crisis in Greece ~ Theo Papadopoulos and Antonios Roumpakis
Tiptoeing through crisis? Re-evaluating the German social model in light of the global recession ~ John Hudson and Stefan Kühner
Boom to bust: globalisation, Ireland and the economic crisis ~ Mairéad Considine and Fiona Dukelow
Waving not drowning: Iceland, crisis and alternative social policy futures ~ Zoë
Experiences from two financial crises in the Nordic welfare states: early 1990s and the current crisis ~ Pekka Kosonen
Economic crisis and social policy in the United States and Canada ~ Daniel Béland and Alex Waddan
The UK ~ Kevin Farnsworth
Responding to the challenges: some concluding remarks on welfare futures in changed circumstances ~ Kevin Farnsworth and Zoë
ReviewsOwn it? Review it!
Social policy in challenging times
The present UK government is not alone in (the US and Germany for instance) in promoting the idea that people should be in gainful employment and there should be an end to welfare benefit dependency. Leaving aside parallels between a government's wish for full employment and the legend of Sisyphus there are merits in the ambition. Much research has been done to show the positive benefits for the individual and the society in which they live. The benefits of having a sense of purpose and self-worth.
Similarly, research shows that people who have a sense of purpose and self-worth are generally healthier through their working life and that is sustained into retirement. People in work are less likely to commit crimes, especially those that unsettle communities such as house breaking and violence.If we ignore the ideological agenda behind the present government's work programme there is a serious point. We do need a sense of self-worth and of belonging. Maslow's hierarchy of needs states that we need to first have our physical needs met of being fed etc. We then need to feel safe beloved (and belong) so that we can have self-esteem. At that point, we then will be a moral person who is creative and free of prejudices. If everyone who can work is in work then clearly there will be huge personal gains, a massive reduction in welfare spending and an increase in tax revenues.
So why is it not happening? The chapters in Social Policy in Challenging Times provide some of the answers. Several of the authors refer to two key themes. The first is the ideologies of (especially western) governments and the second is the increasing gap between rich and poor. Governments, certainly modern ones, are very short term in their thinking. So, even assuming that governments bought into the idea of, and benefits from, full employment it is too long term to deliver the vote wining impacts of other and quicker measures. This is one of the possible paradigm changes that the current financial and fiscal stresses could lead us too. The likelihood of a paradigm change is explored directly by Michael Hill in chapter 2. Several writers including Ian Gough in chapter 3 explore the different interests that could maintain or change the current political ideology and financial orthodoxy. Nevertheless, as they point out there is now over 30 years of investment in the neoliberal agenda.
This neoliberal agenda has developed; it could be argued on two much older developments in the west. Nicholas Shaxson in his book 'Treasure Islands: Tax Havens and the men who Stole the World' argues that the neoliberal agenda can be linked back to the split in the Christian church. Specifically the split that led to the Orthodox Church on the one hand and the (Roman) Catholic Church on the other. Part of this split was about the Filioque, the Holy Trinity. In the Orthodox Church God is the father of all and supreme. We are collectively the children in his family. In the Catholic and later the Protestant Faiths the trinity are equals thereby giving people, through Jesus Christ, equality and therefore individuality. As society continued to change so that individuality was fostered.
The second historic change was the development of the metal plough. A plough that could dig deeper and go quicker than wooden ploughs. William Anderson in his book 'Green Man: The Archetype of our Oneness in with the Earth' wrote that the development of the metal deep plough led to us viewing the earth as an exploitable resource that we could control and conquer. As the metal plough was being developed so was the Christian faith that used the metal axe as a symbol to move us away from the worship of place to the worship of a distant being. St Martin of Tours in the 5th century, St Boniface in the 8th century and a 12th century manuscript about St Armand all use the same symbolism. The power of the (Christian) axe clearing the pagan trees. Thereby clearing the ground (literally) for the metal deep plough. Ties of faith linking us to a place and each other no longer bind us. However, we now have a personal (private) link to a distant god. These two changes paved the way for the personal and corporate greed that has fuelled modern finance and modern government. That allows, for example, a large investor to buy rice from the field and to store that rice until the price goes up when they will sell it on to a food wholesaler who will then package it and sell it on to retail outlets. The investor has no interest in the product only the profit it will generate.These changes become more noticeable when we compare our cultures with other, more agrarian, cultures. Those cultures still use hand tools, live in small communities and believe in the relatedness of place, people, flora and fauna. Much has been written, in the west, over the ages idealising such cultures and inviting westerners to return to those idealised roots. Much of it was romantic claptrap but within it was a recognition of how much healthier and more balanced people were who had a much more direct relationship with each other and with their work.
In chapter 1 Farnsworth & Irving write about the work of Ferge who referred to the individualisation of the social and a marketisation of welfare. This, they write, is reinforced by the work of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The IMF states that to balance budgets and pare back debts to a moderate level governments need to impose very deep spending cuts over the next 20 years. Neither governments (well western ones anyway) nor recessions last that long. Could it be that the IMF is expecting that the neoliberal agenda will outlive governments because there is no powerful and creditable alternative voice? Something that Hill writes as being necessary to create the required paradigm shift. In support of the need for a paradigm shift Barrientos, in chapter 6 writes that 'it is important to focus on programmes that address current and future poverty through strengthening the economic and social inclusion of households in poverty. The book usefully reminded me that growing wealth inequality fosters a general widening of inequalities. In an indirect reference to Maslow, several of the writers including Farnsworth & Irving, Sinfield and others refer to social inequalities. As work opportunities decrease so disproportionate numbers of young people, women and black and other minority ethnic (BME) people get pushed into lower waged jobs and or unemployment. Despite over 40 years of attempting to ensure that women earn an equal wage for equal work such equality, according to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, will take another 20 years to be achieved.
This competition for such work as is available makes us feel unsafe, that we do not belong and threatens our self-esteem. Anyone who has been made redundant will know that no matter how well we rationalise what has happened, nor how much we buy into the realities that led to our unemployment, we are unsettled and find it hard to focus when we walk out of that job for the last time. The state compounds that mood by making it very clear that we have but a limited time to find another job, any job, before benefit sanctions kick in. We are quickly moved from being a victim of circumstance to potential benefit scrounger.
What the book certainly helped me to see are the strategic and possibly global challenges that we have to work with if we want an inclusive society. If we want to live in a place where we feel we belong and feel safe then we each need to influence the opportunity for a paradigm shift. We need to focus on the political long term to help influential agencies such as the IMF to feel secure in planning for longer -term solutions rather than the quick fixes that bedevil the activities around the current crisis. This is a valuable book that brings a wide range of thinking into a key policy area and helps all of us, who have a role no matter how small, to evaluate the merits of one action over another.
Reviewed by Dave Brown
Social policy in challenging times
This is a timely book that stems from the best of intellectual debate and endeavour, demonstrating the centrality and impact of academia at a time when it too is under threat from the instrumentalist thinking that permeates contemporary Western economies, politics and social welfare programmes.
The context of the current set of crises and search for meanings, understandings and trajectories is outlined with some erudition. Farnsworth and Irving are clear where their socio-political sympathies lie but provide an approach that carefully weighs up the evidence drawing on what we know of sub-prime mortgage selling, an unquestioned belief in growth, a rise in stealth-capitalism that knocked the banks out of kilter and resulted in retrenchment of lending, the calling in of loans and a range of financial crises played out differently in different countries across the world, and delivering sweeping blows to some, particularly the US, UK, Ireland and Iceland.
The comparative analysis offered in this edited collection is important in determining how neoliberal models, taken to extremes, have logically resulted in crisis. Questions are also posed, although not fully answered, concerning the continuing acceptance of neoliberal market forces as a basis for economic activity.
The book is separated into two parts with the first five chapters, after the introduction, varying theoretical analyses of the policy disruptions and individual hardships resulting from the 2007 downturn and ensuing crisis and recession. Hill's measured chapter asks whether we are witnessing a "paradigm shift"; in ideological terms, a move away from the neoliberal hegemony that has reigned since the ascendency of Thatcherism towards a neo-Keynesian model. The complexities of such an analysis and the potential for an unhelpful logical determinism is recognised by Hill who, by analysing a range of scenarios, presents a gradual change in paradigm that fits a messy world in which small perturbations may impact in ways that are not always immediately clear.
The often shared politico-economic perspective of many social policy academics comes to the fore, not only in the editors' acknowledgement of their bias but also in that of many contributors, for instance in Gough's analysis of the crisis of capitalism, and Deacon's challenge to the United Nations and monetary powers to drive towards minimum social protection packages and away from poverty alleviation and market forces as socio-political catalysts. This overt integrity is important for the book, and adds to its positive contribution to understanding social welfare development and retrenchment in the contemporary economic crisis. An academic view from a neoliberal position on the crisis and welfare also would have been interesting, although perhaps somewhat redundant given the close analysis of these chapters. Barrientos' chapter on social policy in developing nations, for instance, balances the poverty alleviation programme/social protection debate.
In part two of the book insights from Korea, China, Ireland, Iceland as well European, North American and Nordic countries allows the reader to draw conclusions that the crisis is varied and variable in its initial impact and in its on-going implications for the various nations. An interesting conclusion is raised in highlighting the more severe and durable ramifications for neoliberal Westernised nations with more residual approaches to welfare. Farnsworth brings this out admirably in the penultimate chapter concerning the UK. The crisis has had profound effects but it has been used in the UK in an ideological way to favour corporate welfare, reduce the size of the state and social welfare. Whilst the UK's Coalition Government has suggested that austerity measures in public spending and support for business is the only response, heartily backed by the IMF and World Bank, alternative approaches are possible and available. This book makes the case for alternative strategies for tackling the current crisis and demonstrates the continuing centrality of social policy in the contemporary world.
Professor Jonathan Parker, Bournemouth University
Reviewed by Prof Jonathan Parker
Social policy in challenging times
This edited collection provides an excellent, balanced, yet critical, account of the economic difficulties facing the globalised world following the financial crisis and recession of 2007, and of how welfare systems have been affected.
Following an introduction, the book is divided into two parts. Five chapters look at the economic crisis and paradigm change, the financial/fiscal crisis, inequality, global social policy responses, and poverty in developing countries. Thereafter, part two has eight chapters examining such issues in relation South Korea, China, Germany, Ireland, Iceland, Nordic countries, Canada and the U.S., and, not least, the U.K. These are followed by a concluding chapter.
All the chapters have something and informative to say. The introduction, for example, argues that the current capitalist crisis provides a window of opportunity to revisit old ideas and examine new ones. Importantly, the lack of regulatory oversight, weak corporate governance, reckless lending and risk accumulation are all outlined as factors in what occurred. Further, the state intervention that has taken place has been far more concerned with propping up the economic 'system'; rather than national welfare.
Farnsworth's chapter on the U.K. raises some important issues and makes some telling points, including the fact that the crisis has ushered in a new age of welfare austerity. Or again, the Conservative governments of the 1980s and 1990s paved the way to what has occurred under New Labour and now the Conservative-led coalition. First, they transformed the debate on taxation by taking income tax out of rational political debate. Second, they shifted the tax burden and increased the income gap between the rich and poor, this ever widening to this day. Third, the interests of financial and mobile capital were promoted as against domestic industry. And fourth, they tied the economy to a low-regulatory base. All these policy changes help lead to, and increased the impact of, the ensuing financial and economic crisis. One can only hope that resistance will pressurise the government to consider alternatives rather than continuing with cuts that could destroy the social fabric and undermine the fragile economy.
The conclusion discusses some comments on welfare futures. Optimists point to the opportunities because of the failed neoliberal experiment, while pessimists see the crisis as leading to ever more welfare retrenchment. As the editors state (p 278) "challenging times are as likely to widen the scope for progressive welfare state-building as they are to diminish it, and how states respond is a matter of political struggle and political choice".
All in all, an important book, one that provides fascinating insights into the challenges facing social policy across the globe.
Reviewed by Dr Steve Rogowski
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