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Indicators of Social Quality

Outcomes for Belgium

Veerle de Maesschalck

In presenting social quality indicators for Belgium, we have confined ourselves to explaining the national situation concerning these indicators without reflecting on the theory of social quality itself or the broader theoretical framework. When considering social quality from a Belgian perspective, it is important to keep the national context in mind and this is covered in Part I of this article. Part II focuses on the outcomes of social quality indicators, with the findings presented by domain, rather than by component (security, cohesion, inclusion, empowerment). An example of good practice in the context of social quality is provided in Part III, illustrating how the Belgian system of individual work time reduction embodies elements of each of the four components. Finally, we conclude this article by illustrating how Belgium performs in terms of social quality.

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Paule-Monique Vernes

The main ideas of Rousseau relevant to social quality are reviewed here with reference to many of his books and essays. A central theme in Rousseau's work is connected to the evils of inequality where the poor endure their servitude in the name of an illusory common good. The social problem of inequality relates to the political problem of freedom. The social contract requires that the gap between rich and poor be as small as possible; that there is aristocratic government; and that 'the general will' combines the requirement for community with respect for individuality. The article finishes with a discussion of spatial aspects of Rousseau's work relevant to social quality, including the notion of the garden city.

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Anne Fairweather, Borut Rončević, Maj Rydbjerg, Marie Valentová and Mojca Zajc

Social quality was first conceptualised and developed in the book ‘The Social Quality of Europe’ (Beck et al, 1997). This book, through a series of articles, develops the background to the concept and then produces a theoretical framework of social quality. Finally it critically assesses the possibilities for and problems with the concept. In the present paper, we first look at the concept of social quality itself. We then go on to examine the four components of social quality: socio-economic security, social inclusion, social cohesion and empowerment. In each section on individual components the general conceptualisation of this component is discussed, and this is followed by a discussion of how it fits into the social quality quadrant. A number of issues are then identified, that will require further research.

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Mika Vuori and Mika Gissler

The 1970s could be said to be the ‘golden age’ for social and well-being indicators. After a period of slow progress, new indicators were devised in Europe during the mid-1990s, however, improvements are still needed in the knowledge and scientific theories behind these indicators. New indicators need to be developed and comparable multinational statistics need to be collected. The purpose of this article is to present key findings on social quality in Finland. The situation will be described with data at national level with some international comparisons, derived from different resources of statistics and research. Furthermore, the underlying trends that affect the social quality of Finnish people will be described.

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Chiara Saraceno and Susanna Terracina

Within Europe, Italy exhibits one of the highest levels of internal and regional heterogeneity. This heterogeneity has been long standing (so much so that a research tradition has developed looking at regional diversities as veritable social formations – see e.g. Bagnasco 1977) and at the same time not fixed. Trends in the conditions of social quality, therefore, must be read against this background. In the following paragraphs we will synthetically sketch them, on the basis of the exercise developed within the Social Quality Network (Saraceno and Terracina 2004). We are well aware that this exercise is experimental, and that the system of indicators on which it is based is still largely provisional. Therefore, we will not attempt to draw any conclusion. We will simply present trends within each so-called ‘conditional factor’.

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Juan Monreal and Salvadora Titos

A few years ago Spain was not oriented on social quality but on economic growth at the most basic level. It was necessary to improve economic conditions and to restore and consolidate democracy in order to enable Spain to enter the European Union in 1986. Once a member, Spain set out to increase its economic, political and social standing and saw it approximating the European average on the majority of indicators. As we will see below, Spain still has to improve on some of the indicators in order to reduce some persistent imbalances in its socio-economic structure. Hence, the effort made by Spain for some years now must be maintained in order to consolidate its position at the heart of the European Union from a social quality perspective.

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Göran Therborn and Sonia Therborn

‘Social quality’ is not a common term in Sweden and its sister notion ‘quality of life’ is used mainly with respect to the conditions of particular individuals and rarely, if ever, in social analysis. Swedish social statistics and social studies focus on ‘levels of living’ or ‘living conditions’. The perceived subjectivity connotations of ‘quality’ in this context have not been attractive. On the other hand, Swedish social research and policy evaluation have de facto been very much concerned with measuring what may properly be called qualitative dimensions of living conditions and correspondingly less interested in, for example, the possession of consumer goods.

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Michael Ebert, Ilona Ostner, Uschi Brand and Steffen Kühnel

Large-scale initiatives to improve individual life chances and social structures face many problems. They need proper theorising and equally proper operationalisation. This is where the EFSQ project on ‘Social Quality Indicators’ comes into play: its main objective was to develop concepts and instruments for a country- and European-wide assessment of social quality. On the basis of ontological considerations about ‘the social’, the new approach defined a ‘quadrangle’ of four basic conditions which were assumed to determine the development of social quality: ‘socio-economic security’, ‘social inclusion’, ‘social cohesion’ and ‘social empowerment’. Relevant domains and sub-domains for each of the four components were identified and a restricted set of ‘ideal’ – mostly objective – indicators was chosen. The availability of already existing ‘hard’ data did not influence that process. Hence the project has stretched beyond the mere description of social quality in Europe and provided a stimulus to gather new relevant data on ‘forgotten’ aspects of the social quality of life. Social indicator research has a long tradition in Germany which helped us to draw effectively upon the results of regularly conducted surveys. The following report starts by explaining the German context. It then summarises key-findings from existing databases to give meaning to the ninety-five social quality indicators in the four components. Finally, we have included discussion of relevant policy initiatives.

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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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Social Quality

Opening Individual Well-Being for a Social Perspective

Peter Herrmann

The article presents the application of the Social Quality Approach in order to develop a clear understanding of the European Social Model. For this Social Quality is understood as both a normative approach and an analytical tool. The article allows an insight into the actual meaning of the statement frequently made that the course of European integration falls short when it comes to social policy. The problem, however, is not the lack of responsibility for social policy. Rather, the author emphasises that the real problem is the specific interpretation of the social.