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4 - The Welfare State under Pressure

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Summary

Introduction

Each child in the Netherlands receives good care from birth on, and can go to a school that is accessible to everyone. When adults lose their jobs or become unable to work, they can rely on a minimum income provision, and after retirement they get an old-age pension. The welfare state provides for individual well-being and opportunities for personal development, and thereby also for social well-being. In countries with a well-developed welfare state, there is less poverty, lower infant mortality and less crime (Wilkinson & Pickett 2009).

These provisions come with a price tag. In developed welfare states, about half the government's budget is spent on social provisions. Because of the high costs and the major societal impact, the welfare state is continuously the subject of political discussions. Should the retirement age go up? Is it fair to require out of pocket payments in healthcare insurance? Should the government subsidise household help for the elderly? Should fathers have the right to take parental leave? Should a refugee be entitled to social assistance benefits? These are some of the topics that have been on the political agenda in the Netherlands and in other countries in recent years and that sometimes stir up emotional debates in society.

This chapter discusses the historical development of, and current issues around, the welfare state from a political science perspective. First, it offers a description of what the welfare state does. This is followed by an overview of different development trajectories that welfare states took in Europe and North America. It then turns to the reforms and restrictions that started in the 1980s. And finally, it delves into current issues and their political implications.

What does the welfare state do?

In a welfare state, the government plays an important role in promoting the well-being of its citizens. The objectives of a welfare state can be summarised in two general points:

  • 1 The guarantee of an income, even in cases of illness, unemployment, occupational disability or old age;

  • 2 The provision of services, such as housing, education and healthcare, that everyone needs to be able to develop and to function in society (Van der Veen 1994).

These objectives are pursued in different ways. An income is guaranteed by social insurance or by minimum-income provisions.

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Publisher: Amsterdam University Press
Print publication year: 2017

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