Diminishing Welfare: A Cross-National Study of Social Provision

Diminishing Welfare: A Cross-National Study of Social Provision

Diminishing Welfare: A Cross-National Study of Social Provision

Diminishing Welfare: A Cross-National Study of Social Provision


Particularly in the 1990s, social welfare programs have been cut back in a number of countries. Indeed, the phrases ending welfare as we know it or dismantling the welfare state have been used to describe this trend. In this analysis by well-recognized social welfare scholars, the nature and extent of changes in social welfare programs in key industrial or post-industrial countries is scrutinized.

Determining if and how social welfare and employment prospects have been cut back in the United States, Canada, Sweden, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Hungary, and Japan helps to identify the population groups hardest hit by cutback. In the United States, for example, poor, single-mother families have suffered major reductions in income support, while more powerful groups have avoided major losses. This cross-national study not only sheds light on general trends in social welfare but also provides clues to what constitutes successful reform and what has failed. This major comparative analysis will be of interest to scholars, students, policy makers, and professionals as well as the general public concerned with social welfare issues, full employment, poverty, and economic inequality.


In the decades following World War ii, a permanent and growing social welfare sector seemed a secure, even defining attribute of the “new capitalism.” Its “most striking characteristic,” wrote British economist Andrew Shonfield, is “the speed with which the advance in national income has been translated into larger benefits for people unable to pre-empt a direct share of the prosperity through their own earnings” (1965, p. 7).

This provision of income support was not the only remarkable characteristic of the “new capitalism.” It was also, Shonfield wrote, “the conscious pursuit of full employment” (1965, p. 63). Some writers have even included full employment—along with expansive social policies—in the concept of “welfare statism” (Pfaller with Gough and Therborn, 1991, p. 2). Full employment was part and parcel of post-war welfare states, particularly the most advanced ones (Ginsburg, 1983; Esping-Andersen, 1990). Social policy scholar Arthur Gould (1993, p. 3) uses the term “welfare state” to refer to state provision of a comprehensive range of universal welfare benefits and services and a policy of full employment. An earlier definition of the welfare state was “a state democratic in form, interventionist by inclination, and eager to manage the capitalist economy to achieve steady economic growth and maintain full employment” (Logue, 1979, p. 69).

During World War ii, Franklin Roosevelt advocated an “economic bill of rights” that would add “freedom from want” to the political and civil liberties guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution in its Bill of Rights. the first economic right was “a useful and remunerative job.” in a 1949 lecture, T. H. Marshall (1973) observed that just as civil and political rights were established in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, “social” or economic . . .

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