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Convergence in Social Welfare Systems

From Evidence to Explanations

Denis Bouget

After the Second World War, the view that people of every nation would be entitled to experience rising standards of living pervaded all corners of the globe. Convergence was seen as a positive way of achieving a Golden Age and a peaceful and affluent utopia, through modernisation and technical progress. Within this general belief, the development of national social welfare systems in Europe in the postwar period appears to be the outcome of autonomous national processes. The construction of Europe, which imposed common rules in many areas, was nonetheless consistent with the national development of social welfare systems within each national culture. The idea of a common system of social protection has always been linked to European political and economic construction, which was expected to create a more cohesive society. Reference is made constantly to convergence as a catching-up process in the comparative evaluation of national social policies, but the implementation of an ambitious European system of social protection and the creation of harmonised national welfare systems have always proved to be impossible. The paper focuses on two specific topics. Firstly, it examines attempts to quantify convergence among EU and OECD countries at the macro-economic level, using social indicators to assess the convergence or divergence of social expenditure. The evidence of convergence is shown to be ambiguous due to a number of methodological problems. Secondly, two main interpretations of convergence are examined: economic forces and legal frameworks. The paper shows that the analysis of national trajectories of social expenditure and the link with economic development can enrich the analysis of convergence or divergence in social protection. Even if the maturation or reform of national social policies explains the origins of increases in social expenditure, macro-economic pressures, or constraints (globalisation, Single Market), on public expenditure can fuel certain type of convergence. In all the developed countries, social welfare systems are based on national legal frameworks. A goal of social Europe is not only to work towards European solidarity but also to build common social rights throughout Europe. Convergence of national social welfare systems can, therefore, be interpreted as a component in a general process of convergence in law within the developed countries, especially within Europe. However, common explanations of convergence in social welfare systems often neglect elements of divergence. They, therefore, conceal the complexity of the process and very often underestimate the full extent of divergence.

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Social Quality

The French Case

Denis Bouget and Frederic Salladarré

The objective of this study is to establish a set of indicators capable of forming the empirical basis of the concept of social quality for European citizens. Social quality is defined as the extent to which citizens are able to participate in the social and economic life of their communities under conditions which enhance their well-being and individual potential (Beck et al. 2001: 6). Before analysing the four social quality conditional factors, we will describe some facts surrounding the French situation. Firstly, the general social and economic situation will be described through characteristics which are particularly outstanding in France, i.e., in the first place unemployment and flexibility (in a negative sense comprising working poor, involuntary part-time workers, etc.). In the second place, certain striking features in the four conditional factors of social quality will be emphasised.

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Denis Bouget and Philippe Tessier

Phillips, David. 2006. Quality of Life, Concept, Policy and Practice.

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Jan Berting, Denis Bouget, Peter Herrmann, Gábor Juhász, Ton Korver, Peter R. A. Oeij, David Phillips and Paule Monique Vernes

Notes on Contributors

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Paul Bissell, Denis Bouget, Steven Dhondt, Ota de Leonardis, Peter R. A. Oeij, Cathy Read, Paul Redgrave, Peter Taylor-Gooby, Philippe Tessier, Johan Van de Kerckhove, Paul Ward and Noortje M. Wiezer

Notes on contributors