Diversity-A Challenge to the Scandinavian Care Regime?

By Johansson, Stina; Andersson, Katarina | Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

Diversity-A Challenge to the Scandinavian Care Regime?


Johansson, Stina, Andersson, Katarina, Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table


Introduction (1)

The Scandinavian welfare model is often described as one of the most generous welfare systems in the world. Universal services such as child care, public health, education and social services are financed by high tax levels. The welfare system is traditionally first and foremost obtained through citizenship, and not by participation on the labour market. The distinctive characteristics of the Scandinavian approach to social policy are the dominant role of national governments and an extensive public sector for the implementation of that public policy. (2)

The Norwegian sociologist Stein Kuhnle (2000) has described the policy in 12 points: (3)

   A greater state involvement than other countries
   A greater proportion of labour force employed in the welfare sector
   A heavy public reliance on the public sector
   Co-ordinated national systems with over-all responsibility for
   pensions, sick-leave
   benefits, child care allowances and health services
   A high level of trust between citizens and government
   Comprehensive universal social insurance systems which cover entire
   populations or subgroups

   An advanced level of gender equality
   Social insurance systems free of class or occupational bias
   General taxation
   A great emphasis on providing services
   A strong emphasis on full employment as a goal in itself
   A strong popular support

The Scandinavian welfare state is also described by Esping-Andersson (1990, 1999) to be guided by the principle of universalism and de-commodification and with social rights extended to the new middle classes. Social democracy was the dominant force behind social reforms that would promote an equality of high standard, not an equality of minimal needs. This form of equality implied, according to Esping-Anderson (1990),

   ... first, that services and benefits be upgraded to levels
   commensurate with even the most discriminating tastes of the new
   middle classes; and, second, that equality be furnished by
   guaranteeing workers full participation in the quality of rights
   enjoyed by the better-off (p. 27).

The social democratic regime's policy of emancipation addresses both the market and the traditional family. The principle is not to wait until the family's capacity to aid is exhausted. "The ideal is not to maximize dependence on the family, but capacities for individual independence " ibid. (p 28, our italics).

Within the Swedish social care sector, which was created by the social welfare state and organises help to old and disabled people, the implementation of gender equality and diversity politics in the labour market is extremely challenging. In this article we will argue that the national policy in its practical solutions has taken homogeneity for granted, which has consequences for how gender equality, diversity and the Scandinavian care regime are defined and implemented. In order to survive as a productive sector a re-thinking of gender and diversity is necessary.

Gender equality

Historically there is a strong connection between women's participation in the labour force, gender equality in the labour market and a strong female support for the model. The question of women's roles in family and society has been debated in Sweden since the turn of the last century. Over time, societal change has influenced views on how to transform reproductive duties into productive work. The ideal that began to emerge in the post-war period, especially among policymakers and employer federations was to recruit more women into paid work. After the Second World War there was a lack of manpower in Sweden. There were two alternative solutions, either to recruit women into paid work or to import manpower. In Sweden trade unions advocated the recruitment of women while employer federations advocated the import of manpower. Both alternatives were chosen. …

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