What does comparative study of welfare provision in Europe tell us about the welfare system in Britain?
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What does comparative study of welfare provision in Europe tell us about the welfare system in Britain? Welfare provision emerged with urbanization, industrialization (Bryson, 1992) and is an integral part of any capitalist society (Gough, 1979). When comparing welfare provision cross-nationally, on a macro level the welfare systems do not appear all that different (Bryson, 1992), but with closer examination they are profoundly different. The only similarities that can be detected from one welfare system to another are, history, culture, demography, politics and economy, these are the influencing factors of all welfare systems (Greve, 1983). This essay will discuss comparative studies of welfare provision in Europe with a view to finding out why the British welfare system assumes its current position. The essay will discuss Germany and Sweden specifically, looking at Germany's conservative approach to welfare and Sweden's socialist view, considering Esping- Anderson's (1998) welfare regimes model and looking at the history of both countries welfare systems. It will then consider the stages which the British welfare system has gone through to reach its current form and try and understand why, with consideration of welfare provision in Germany and Sweden. Welfare provision in Germany has been termed; middle way social policy (George, 1996), and conservative corporatist welfare (Esping-Anderson, 1998) with its Christian, Social and Free Democratic Party roots (Ginsburg, 1993). The 'social state' of Germany began in the late 19th century when Bismarck was concerned the political left would oppose his place in power, he decided to introduce welfare provision into Germany to gain support from the left (Esping-Anderson, 1998).
Swedish welfare provision has tried to build on the idea that an individual, does not take more than they have put in so to create solidarity limiting competition and inequality (Ginsburg, 1993). Esping-Anderson (1998) developed a model of welfare regimes, within this model he found that there were three types of welfare regime; Liberal Welfare, Conservative Corporatist Welfare and Socialist Welfare, each representing the welfare systems of certain countries. Liberal welfare systems are usually based on means testing and provide limited social insurance schemes. Conservative Corporatist systems of welfare offer a more comprehensive scheme of insurance and keep redistribution to a minimum. Finally, Socialist welfare systems act more for the working class, redistributing benefits to the unemployed and sick. Esping-Anderson (1998) put Germany in the conservative corporatist regime because Germany's welfare system is based on an insurance principle and has its roots in Catholicism. Sweden was put in the Socialist regime due to their commitment to provision of universal welfare, however he does not put Britain in any one particular regime. Esping-Anderson (1998) believes that Britain tends to shift from the Liberal regime to a Socialist regime. This may be because of the number of different political parties which have served in government. When discussing the British welfare system, it appears that other countries can be used to guide the discussion, many of the social reforms which caused social policies to be passed occurred years after similar policies were passed in other countries or the reforms took a very different route from Britain.
It is only since the Labour Party has had a second victory in the 2001 General election that ideas are beginning to shift. There are indications of a more liberal approach to policy making and welfare provision, evidence of this was shown in the recent speech from Prime Minister Tony Blair (www.labour.org, 2001) where it was suggested that increased spending for welfare provision would possibly, be meet by increasing taxation rather than from private sector sources, as had been the prevailing policy of both the previous labour and conservative administration. When comparing Britain's welfare system with welfare provision in Sweden and Germany, Esping Anderson's welfare regime model can be greatly understood. When discussing the British Welfare system it becomes very clear why Esping Anderson could not put Britain into a particular regime. This essay has demonstrated that Britain's welfare system has almost gone full circle and has virtually reverted back to its original principles, more liberal and more in favour of the cooperation between public and private spending. What can be learnt about Britain's welfare system from understanding comparative study of welfare provision in Sweden and Germany is that Britain has not found a welfare system that can sustain the continually changing market economy and social policy. Within Britain's welfare system exists, perhaps the better parts of welfare provision in Sweden and Germany, the more neo-liberal ideas which Germany have adopted within their welfare system and the more socialist, Keynesian based ideas which exist in Sweden.
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