Social disadvantages and welfare problems: The role of collective welfare resources
Doctoral thesis, Peer reviewed
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This thesis investigates the relationship between social disadvantages and welfare problems, and assesses the role of collective welfare provision in alleviating the risk of welfare problems. Welfare is studied as a multidimensional phenomenon, and here I examine both distributional aspects, i.e. poverty, and relational aspects of welfare, i.e. social exclusion and social capital. Collective welfare state resources are resources provided by welfare state institutions such as health care systems and social insurance systems. In this thesis, the focus is on the level of generosity in the provision of such resources. A long-standing debate within social policy concerns the dilemma between re-distribution on the one hand and the possible detrimental consequences of generous welfare provision on the other. This major debate involves opposing views that disagree on whether generous welfare provision is related to different welfare problems. The overall research question of the thesis is: What are the relationships between social disadvantages and relational and distributional welfare problems, and how are the welfare problems modified by collective welfare provision? According to welfare critics, generous welfare provision may distort people’s capacity to plan and control their lives and pervert norms whereas according to welfare proponents on the other hand, generous welfare provision alleviates poverty and inadequate social participation. In line with the ‘command over resources’ approach, generous welfare provision are believed to improve the conditions that determine choices, strengthen agency and the ability to direct the conditions of life as well as ‘buffer’ the extent to which individual disadvantages in one area are related to disadvantages in another area Three out of four studies (studies I, III and IV) in this thesis contribute to shed light, in different ways, on whether generous welfare provision is related to different welfare problems, and hence provide results that are consistent with either welfare critics on the detrimental consequences of generous welfare provision, or welfare proponents on the benefits of welfare provision. The results of this thesis show that both relational welfare problems, i.e. non-participation in networks (Study I), as well as distributional ones, i.e. material deprivation and income poverty (studies III and IV), invariable decreased as welfare generosity increased. The results on relational welfare problems show that there were no indications of higher levels of social exclusion in more generous welfare states, i.e. the association between welfare generosity and non-participation did not differ between disadvantaged groups and compared to the reference group (Study I). Results on distributional welfare problems show, with few exceptions, that the risk of income poverty and material deprivation decreased with increasing welfare generosity among disadvantaged groups in absolute terms. The absolute inequalities as well as the absolute levels among disadvantaged groups were lower in more generous welfare state contexts (studies III and IV). The low educated benefitted the most from generous welfare provision, compared to other social risk categories, in terms of a substantially lower risk of material deprivation (Study IV). However, findings on both relational as well as distributional welfare problems showed that social inequalities assessed relatively were not necessarily smaller in generous welfare states. Study II based at the individual level in the context of the social capital ‘rich’ and egalitarian country of Norway, show that relational aspects of welfare was not equally available to all, in particular, education seemed to matter for both social trust and civic participation (Study II). The finding of this thesis lends support to the welfare proponents and the view that welfare resources enables participation in society and support the view that generous welfare provision provides disadvantaged individuals with resources to alleviate the risk of poverty. Eventually the views that generous welfare states distort self-efficacy, values and norms, whether these concern the moral obligation towards others or the incentive to work, does not seem justified. The results of this thesis is however, based on cross-sectional data. I am therefore unable to establish causal relations and, hence, present convincing arguments for generous welfare provision in the future. Generous welfare provision introduced in countries with different cultural and institutional conditions will not necessarily increase social participation and alleviate poverty. However, the findings of this thesis, supported by a range of other studies (at both the macro and the micro level), seem to warrant encompassing state intervention and generous welfare provision to handle welfare problems, at least up to now.