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The chapters in this edited collection have examined how the uncertainties of the age present diverse challenges to civil society at the beginning of the twenty-first century. We have drawn on a wide range of studies from WISERD’s Civil Society research programme. The first part of this concluding chapter summarises the different existential challenges with reference to the principal findings of each study and how they link to civic stratification. The second part outlines the common themes emerging from this volume and the associated prospects and perils for civil society organisations.
Principal findings, existential challenges and civic Stratification
Drawing upon David Lockwood’s (1996) conceptualisation, the present volume underlines how the existential challenges and the uncertainties facing civil society impact on civic stratification in the form of civic deficit and exclusion as well as civic expansion and gain. Lockwood posits that ‘the institutional unity of citizenship, market and bureaucratic relations is central to social cohesion’ (1996: 531). However, in a specific and qualified sense, the studies presented here point to the demise of institutional unity of citizenship. This is because of the global trend of state decentralisation and the rise of meso – or ‘regional’ – governance. Lockwood cannot be blamed for not foreseeing the full impact of this. He did, however, view demands for constitutional reform as a mode of civic expansion (p 535). His seminal work was formed in an era largely characterised by what Wimmer and Glick Schiller (2002: 301) term ‘methodological nationalism’, or the assumption that the state-wide practices are the natural social and political form of the modern world. As this volume’s findings illustrate, devolution in the UK is leading to the territorialisation of welfare citizenship, trust, identity and rights (see Chaney 2013, 2015, 2021c). For so-called ‘sub-state’ nations such as Wales and Scotland, the present may be a stepping-off point, a transitional stage on the way to independent statehood. What we do know from the studies in this volume is that the rise of territorial electoral politics and meso-government is significant because prevailing policy approaches in each UK nation are grounded in the different ideological orientations of the dominant parties.
This book explores how the uncertainties of the twenty-first century present existential challenges to civil society. Presenting original empirical findings, it highlights transferable lessons that will inform policy and practice in today's age of uncertainty.
A burgeoning international literature charts the decline of traditional forms of state welfare provision, leading some to question whether the welfare state can survive (Gamble 2016). The UK is no exception to the wider trend. Over recent decades there have been significant cuts to welfare services (Edmiston 2017) and extensive outsourcing to the private sector. In part, this stems from the 1980s and 90s and the New Right attack on Keynesian welfare provision (McKevitt and Lawton 1994). Amid contemporary concerns over a crisis in state welfare provision (Rueda 2014), this chapter explores emerging evidence as to whether, in contrast to statist and market based ‘for profit’ service delivery, civil society is the answer to meeting modern welfare needs.
We examine one of the most pressing welfare challenges of the twenty-first century: adult social care (ASC). Reflecting this volume’s central theme of the uncertainties of the age, it examines the evidence on ASC delivery before and during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020–21. It uses a comparative case study approach focusing on policy and practice in the four nations of the UK. This aligns with a burgeoning literature that has sought to analyse the decentralisation of the welfare state (Borghi and Van Berkel 2007; Chaney 2021). It is appropriate because devolution has created a natural experiment in welfare mixes. The analysis is based upon two WISERD ESRC-funded studies 2018–2021. The dataset comprises over one hundred interviews with civil society policy actors and other stakeholders, complemented by analysis of parliamentary proceeding, policy documents and the ‘grey’ literature of civil society organisations. The core research questions are: according to the views of key stakeholders, how do the different territorial welfare mixes on ASC in the four nations of the UK compare in their effectiveness? Did the four mixed economy models provide an effective response to ASC delivery in the pandemic? Does the evidence presented in the chapter exacerbate civil inequalities and social stratification? Last, can non-governmental organisations (NGOs) beneficially replace or complement the work of state ASC providers?
The term adult social care refers to non-medical support – including provision of social work, personal care, protection or social support services – to adults in need, typically arising from old age, disability and illness.
This volume explores a range of existential challenges facing civil society organisations in the early twenty-first century, a period that has been dubbed ‘the age of uncertainty’ (Bauman 2007; Gagnon 2018; Obeng-Odoom 2021). Such a focus is grounded in existential humanist studies of social welfare. As originally propounded by Mohan (1979, 1985a, b), these highlight how a concern for the well-being of others underpins associative life and impacts on people in diverse ways, including the way they think about themselves, behave and interact. It links to deeper questions about meaning and the values that shape associative life, welfare, culture and democracy. As Dixon (2010: 180) explains,
The cognitive and behavioural changes induced by public social welfare provision are the causal link between that provision and the observed levels of poverty, deprivation, income inequality, social exclusion, and quality of life. To an existential humanist, social welfare provision must seek to enhance the human condition (dominated, as it is, by feelings of aloneness, absurdity, pointlessness, anxiety, guilt and alienation).
In contrast to the North American tradition where ‘welfare’ is often defined narrowly ‘to mean income transfers or direct services which support the poor and give a minimum standard of living’ (Gamble 2016: 3), this volume follows the European approach, defining it as associative action and services designed to improve the general well-being of citizens. In other words, service provision and interventions to promote well-being involving voluntarism and collective action ‘to pool collective risks and to provide investment in the human capital of all citizens’ (Gamble 2016: 3; see also Beveridge 1943; Titmuss 1958; Greve 2013). Beresford (2016: 2) puts it simply: ‘[I]t is essentially concerned with how we take care of each other as human beings.’
To better understand the notion of existential threats facing civil society we need to briefly remind ourselves of the underpinnings of existentialist thought. As Dixon (2010: 178) explains, ‘first-person subjective experiences are dominated by the self’s awareness of individuality, temporality and nothingness, which means people are left only to contemplate the absurdity of living a life without reason or purpose, where self is just a contingent fact engulfed by the infinite’.
This volume explores a range of contemporary challenges facing civil society organisations in the early twenty-first century. As the following chapters reveal, each may arrest or subvert the beneficial effects of associative life and negatively impact upon governance, culture and welfare. The overall argument of this volume is the importance of civil society to individual and collective well-being, as well as the health of democracy. On the one hand, the following chapters note the resilience of civil society and its adaptability to meet uncertainties, yet on the other, we argue that civil society’s ability to prevail in the face of the existential challenges is far from assured. Rather, it is contingent in nature and requires ongoing vigilance, social self-organisation and criticality. A further strand of our argument underlines the point that while the contemporary ‘project’ to reconfigure the state might be normatively sound, its execution can be subverted by dogma, and the failure of political elites to listen and engage exogenous interests, as well as civil society organisations’ mistrust and lack of capacity to participate. Accordingly, this is the first of two short introductory chapters to this volume. Here we summarise core aspects of the history and theory associated with the concept of civil society. This is followed by a discussion of the key features of civil society in the nations of the UK. In the next chapter we summarise contemporary political and social changes and how these contribute to the existential challenges facing civil society today.
The concept of civil society has been variously advanced as: a corrective to the negative effects of neo-liberal, market-driven policies; an answer to the challenges of state down-sizing and declining welfare capacity; and a bedrock of democracy and good governance through which citizens can hold political elites to account. Moreover, it has been styled as a space where culture, identity and norms can be transmitted and valued. However, the reality is that, far from being a panacea, civil society is itself intimately wrapped up in the uncertainties of the age.
This article analyses the development of the Council of Social Service for Wales during what is often called the Golden Age of the Welfare State. Recovering the neglected history of the peak organisation for voluntary social service in Wales adds to our understanding of the histories of social policy and postwar Wales. The article addresses social policy from a doubly peripheral perspective – it attends to a territorial periphery of the UK State while voluntary action can be left at the margins of Welfare State analysis. From this perspective we hope to cast new light on the historiography of the ‘British Welfare State’
Over recent decades there has been an international shift towards multi-level governance. Against this backdrop, many comparative welfare studies take government policy outputs as the starting point for their analysis. However, the associated pluralization of electoral systems in unitary states means that welfare choices are no longer exclusively informed by single state-wide ballots. Accordingly, this study makes an original contribution by exploring the formative role of electoral discourse in shaping social policy divergence in (quasi-)federal states. It does this through an examination of party politicization and the issue-salience of homelessness in manifestos for UK state-wide and regional elections. The findings reveal how electoral discourse is a key driver of policy divergence. These territorially-specific structural narratives are used to propose a model of welfare divergence in multi-level systems, one that is cognizant of the formative role of electoral discourse in shaping the development of welfare regimes.
The creation of a ‘regional’ legislature for Wales in 1999 presents the opportunity to evaluate the promotion of equality and human rights in the context of multi-level governance in the UK. A decade on, positive aspects include the political reprioritisation of equalities in policy and law and new forms of representative and discursive politics. However, significant shortcomings are also evident. Overall, the Wales case study suggests that sub-unitary-state legislatures have the potential to tailor equalities policies to meet local needs more effectively, yet progress may be arrested by context-specific factors, as well as those that resonate with the international literature on mainstreaming equalities in the work of government.
Writing in the first few months following the granting in 1999 of limited self-government to Wales and Scotland, policy specialists commented that “the full effect of these changes has yet to be seen, but there is clear potential for a significant and long-lasting impact on the future shape of social policy” (Sykes et al, 2001, p 3). Others have variously chosen to refer to a “sub-national opportunity space” (Bulmer and Burch, 2002, p 21) or to explore the extent to which ‘devolution’ has the potential to deliver better governance (Chaney et al, 2001). As the following evidence shows, quasi-federalism in the UK has important implications for social policy. Here we explore the social policy record for the National Assembly for Wales during its first term (1999-2003). Our task is threefold. First, it will be argued that the Welsh Assembly is, if it is anything, a social policy body. Second, that the government of the Assembly has gone about discharging its social policy responsibilities in a way that has an explicit set of articulated, ideological principles, which mark out that agenda as distinctive. Third, we aim to demonstrate that this distinctiveness has not been confined to policy formulation but has also been translated into the detail of policy implementation and regulation.
The scope and powers of the Assembly: a social policy body?
The powers of the National Assembly for Wales, as framed in the 1998 Government of Wales Act, amply illustrate the asymmetrical character of devolution in the United Kingdom (Sandford, 2002; McCrone, 2002), for the Welsh Assembly (in contrast to the Scottish Parliament) lacks both primary legislative and tax-varying powers. A growing number of observers have highlighted the deficiencies in the present constitutional arrangements for Wales (see, for example, Rawlings, 2003a, 2003b). Hazell (2003, p 298) puts it this way: “the settlement is precarious, because it is completely dependent on the goodwill of the British government to find legislative time (always in short supply) and their willingness to accommodate Welsh concerns”. Regardless of one’s position on this contentious issue, it is clear that the current constitutional arrangements do provide “greater scope for substantive divergence” – and “ever more policy innovation” (Keating, 2002, p 14).
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