Nordic Centre of Excellence:
Reassessing the Nordic
Bjørn Hvinden +4722541217
Viggo Nordvik +4722541269
Mi Ah Schøyen +4722541286
Nordic welfare state paths - drivers of change
The strand will examine the ways in which the last two decades´ restructuring of Nordic welfare states has been explained in the scientific literature. The strand will ask whether we find evidence of changes in the underlying values of the Nordic populations, and if so, can these changes be understood independently of the expansion of welfare state provisions and the opportunities these have created?
To what extent have shifts in political orientations and voting-patterns stimulated reforms? In which ways have changes in the class and gender orders of the Nordic societies influenced reform processes? Are new class and gender conflicts emerging? Are some reforms reactions to the practical erosion or unintended consequences of the initial design of Nordic Welfare Model (NWM) institutions?
To what extent have the Nordic governments imported policy-ideas and concepts from other countries or supranational organisations (e.g. the OECD, the EU)? If altered preconditions of the NWM (e.g. demographic ageing, deep recession, unemployment shocks or globalisation) have forced Nordic countries to adjust, did their governments interpret and react to "similar" pressures in similar or different ways?
The team analysing these questions will first clarify core concepts to describe reforms (e.g. targeting, retrenchment, recommodification, activation, marketisation, privatisation, de/refamilisation), and second, work out how to operationalise and measure these processes comparatively. The strand will evaluate the distributive and regulatory aspects of reforms and their consequences for social citizenship and rights. The mail goal is to produce new knowledge about the NWM´s transition and the forms transition has taken in individual countries; can we still talk about one NWM?
Leader: Anneli Anttonen
Professor, Department of Social Policy and Social Work, University of Tampere
E-mail: anneli.anttonen(a)uta.fi, Phone: +358 3355 16306
There is wide theoretical and political agreement over the fact that the Nordic Welfare Model exists and differs in many fundamental ways from other welfare models (Castles 2004). The main features of the NWM are the following ones:
- Comprehensiveness of social policy: encompassing social security, social and health care services, education, housing, employment etc.
- Strong state involvement and extensive public responsibility in different social policy areas.
- High degree of universalism: all pay and all benefit.
- High degree of de-commodification and de-familisation through social policies.
- Well-established gender equality policies basing on state feminism.
- High level of social service provision: the notion of ‘public social services state’.
- Social rights basing on citizenship.
- Uniformity of service provision: middle and upper classes use same services as others.
- Municipalities responsible for providing services and partly also financing them.
- Benefits are largely tax financed.
- Strong political and popular support to the NWM and universalism in particular.
- Active labour market policy.
Due to these and other features social rights of citizens are more extensive in the Nordic welfare societies than in other countries; and, the NWM decommodifies labour power and promotes gender equality more effectively than most other models. It has succeeded in distributing resources between rich and poor so that only a small minority of residents in these countries live in poverty. There are less children and solo mothers living in poverty than in other countries. The NWM has created opportunities for women to act as both paid workers and carers by reconciling work and family responsibilities. Many economists have shown that high social expenditure and the high level of taxation closely attached to the model has not been an obstacle to economic growth and competitiveness in the global economy. There is also some evidence that the NWM promotes active citizenship in terms of political and social participation not to speak of labour market participation of both men and women. Finally, the NWM has proved to be fairly stable in spite of periods of economic recession and high unemployment (e.g. Kautto et al. 1999, Kautto et al. 2001).
Universalism, tax financing and strong popular and political support seem to strengthen each other. Universalism as an ideal and principle of redistribution has been important both for social democracy (cross-class solidarity) and women’s movement (gender equality) in smoothening economic inequalities and creating equal opportunities. It has also favoured regional equality, which explains strong support given to universalism by Agrarian and Centre parties.
During the last decade global and other external as well as internal pressures have become stronger, however. A number of drives of change, including globalisation of economy and labour markets, ageing of societies, growth of immigration and cultural differentiation, growth of middle class influence in social policies, changes in gendered and generational configurations of labour market and family life, changes in governance models and new ways to run local-level social policies, sets pressures to change the foundational principles of the NWM.
The overall internationalisation means that the role of national social policies might diminish due to the European Union and other supra-national actors. These pressures might lead into greater convergence between different welfare models at least within Europe, and greater divergence among the Nordic countries. We need to ask in which ways the NWM has succeeded in adapting to these changes. What are the main transitions taken place since the late 1980s, and how to measure changes? Are the features and principles attached to the NWM changing and into which direction? Is the NWM still a success story as a balancing element between capital and labour, between family and work and between different social classes.
2. Important questions
The most important research questions to be answered by strand 9 are the following:
What are the main drives of change behind the NWM? What has happened to the NWM during the last 15 years or so? Is it still economically and politically capable to adjust to external changes? Are there some internal changes to be taken into account while evaluating the future of the model? Is the model gaining more popularity in international politics and less in the Nordic countries? What explains the possible sustainability and policy adjustment of the model? In which ways has policy adjustment happened?
Are there some new tensions driving the model into new directions? Tensions between decommodification and commodification? Tensions between universalism and selectivism? Tensions between local and state social policies? Tensions between work and family? Tensions between social classes? Tensions between old and new governance?
Is public responsibility shrinking while non-state actors have become stronger at least in service provision (education, health and social care)? What does this mean to the comprehensiveness of social policies? What will be the new deal between the state, voluntary organisations and private companies? Is the economisation of services a sign of shrinking public responsibility? What happens to the public social services states?
Is cross-class solidarity eroding due to stronger middle class influence? How to sustain cross-class solidarity in a situation where a bigger part of wage earners are receiving capital income? Who are wage workers in future society and in which ways are their interests expressed and promoted? Is there emerging a new kind of tension between capital and labour?
Does increasing immigration and cultural differentiation closely attached to it weaken the principle of universalism? How to adjust diversity with uniformity and universalism? Is diversity one of the big challenges for NWM?
What has happened to political and popular support? Do Nordic citizens trust universal rather than selective social provision? Do then citizens’ opinions and changes in welfare policies meet each other or are there some gaps between expectations and ‘real’ policies?
In all Nordic countries, a huge number of reforms and changes have indeed taken place. There are signs that selectivism and targeting in social policy practices have gained some popularity over universalism (activation policies, stricter targeting of social services and benefits). There are also signs of extensive privatisation of services including contracting out, out-sourcing and greater use of commercial services. In addition, municipalities have adopted new governance structures to run local social policies. Changes are piecemeal but deep-going.
It is important to pay attention to drives of change behind the NWM. At the same time one has to ask: What are the most important changes in the NWM since the late 1980s until these days? Has the NWM succeeded in maintaining its special features (those of universalism of social provision, high degree of decommodification and defamilisation, relatively low level of poverty, and high level of gender equality measures) in spite of the changes already taken place. What then is the future of the NWM?
3. Themes to be studied and modes of working in the research strand
Studies on drivers of change of the Nordic Welfare Model:
- middle class influence, social solidarity in the early 21st century
- internationalisation, globalisation
- gendered configurations of the NWM
- ageing of societies
- immigration and cultural difference
- pension reforms
- activation policy
- social services state
- social investment state
- new inequalities
- local social policy
- consumerism, folkkapitalismen
- state/public responsibility
Modes of working in the research strand
- PhD courses
- collaboration with other strands + Recwowe Noe (EU)
- joint publications
- book project
4. Book proposal
The strand aims at producing a good quality book in English concerning drivers of change and the future of the NWM. The list of participants will be completed when authors for the book proposal are sorted out.
Tentative themes for the book proposal:
1. Introduction: after universalism
2. International constraints (globalisation, integration, agreements, EU)
3. Social solidarity and the middle class influence in the early 21th century
4. Gender and gender equality policies: the future of woman-friendly social policy?
5. Ageing of societies: New generational contract?
6. Immigration and cultural difference
7. Pension reforms changing the NWS
8. New course of activation and labour market policies
9. Social services state in transition
10. Social investment state
11. New inequalities emerging
12. Local social policies and new governance structures
13. Citizens’ rights, consumerism and folkkapitalismen