Conference Theme

Re-inventing the welfare state? Pathways to sustainability, equality and inclusion in European welfare states

European welfare states are being confronted with a remarkable paradox. After years of budget cuts, reforms and austerity measures, the means for social policy have become increasingly scarce. Nevertheless, the ambitions of European welfare states are currently higher than ever. The welfare state is no longer only responsible for providing a safety net for social risks, but also propagates the active inclusion of vulnerable people. Under the header of social investment strategies, the emphasis of services and programmes has shifted from ‘preparing’ to ‘repairing’, human capital development has become the pivot of policy design, and welfare states are relying less on social insurance and more on the provision of customised integral services.

Both external developments – like demographic, societal, technological and economic changes – and internal developments – like the social investment and inclusiveness agenda – have led to changes in the organisation of the provision of services. The welfare systems across Europe as they were gradually developed in the 20th century seem to be changing fundamentally. According to some, these changes may be regarded as a dismantling of the welfare state, ultimately leading to its disappearance, especially hurting those who are more vulnerable. Others, however, argue that these transformations have contributed to a more efficient welfare state that is able to handle the current and future challenges.

Meeting and adapting to the challenges of contemporary society have radically altered the playing field of welfare provision and has created a breeding ground for innovation. Europe is reinventing the foundation of its welfare regimes. These observations raise a number of issues and questions relevant for both researchers and policymakers. How are modern welfare state systems institutionally shaped, how is the new welfare state dealing with the coverage of social risks, what innovative solutions can be developed, are these (re)invented welfare states robust enough to cope with future challenges, and, finally, what do we know about the social outcomes of these new welfare states? The answers to these questions will help us to shed more light on the future of the welfare state.

The conference invites proposals for streams and papers that address these issues across the full range of comparative welfare state research from various disciplinary perspectives.