Post written by H.J.M. Fenger

European welfare states have a tradition in compensating for social risks. But across Europe, remarkable transformations may be observed that shift the focus from a needs/rights based compensatory approach towards a more individualistic ‘social risk management’ approach to welfare. The basic idea of social risk management is that citizens have their own responsibility in preventing social risks. This idea has been spread throughout Europe under different headings, including ‘positive welfare’, ‘enabling welfare’, ‘new welfare’ or ‘social investment state’.

All these labels have a normative perspective in common: social risks can be controlled by the responsible behavior of individuals. This implies that in ‘new welfare’ citizens are considered as free and responsible individuals. ‘New welfare’ not only requires the active monitoring and early response in cases of risky behavior. It also alters the level of compensations when individuals – despite all measures and warnings – “choose” to continue their irresponsible and risky behavior. As a consequence, the notion of solidarity within European welfare states might be affected by the ideas of ‘new welfare’ .

The variety in labels, policy initiatives and welfare state domains that are connected with ‘the new welfare’ to some extent prevents a clear view on the magnitude of the transformations that are occurring in European welfare states. Although the ideas of ‘new welfare’ were developed in the early 2000’s, only recently have these ideas been implemented in the European welfare states. This enables us to assess the first experiences with ‘new welfare’ throughout Europe and identify dilemmas that might occur.

A recently published themed section of Social Policy and Society critically asks if there’s much news in the ‘new welfare state’ paradigm. The articles in the themed section show that many of the changes are rhetorical rather than substantive changes. Moreover, for instance in the area of health insurances, the themed section shows that financial and political considerations are at least as importance as the ‘new welfare’ ideology in explaining changes in the coverage of health insurances. Therefore, in the conclusion to the themed section Marion Ellison and Menno Fenger conclude that the ‘new’ welfare state looks surprisingly similar to the ‘old’ welfare state with a new label.

Access the themed section from Social Policy and Society New’ Welfare in Practice: Trends, Challenges and Dilemmas without charge until 31st January 2014.

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