Global ideas of welfare and the narrowing scope of social policy

Chukwuma, Julia Ngozi (2022). Global ideas of welfare and the narrowing scope of social policy. In SOAS Department of Economics Working Paper SOAS University of London, London.



This paper documents contemporary trends within social policymaking. I illustrate how the scope of social policy has narrowed over time, with social assistance programmes nowadays being favoured over more comprehensive forms of social policy. I argue that, overall, social service delivery has been subject to privatisation with the ascendency of neo-liberalism. I moreover provide an overview of the relevant literature discussing the evolution of welfare states (and their retrenchment). With an initial focus on the European context, I survey theories according to which welfare states emerged as a consequence of industrialism, were the outcome of class struggles or a result of historical institutionalism and/or power relations. I then move on to review concepts and theories that account for social policy trajectories in countries of the Global South, and Africa in particular. Many of Africa’s post-colonial states sought to promote social policy as a way of facilitating social cohesion and nation-building and in order to create inclusive states. Still, the rise of neo-liberalism significantly shaped and influenced their particular practices. Finally, I introduce Ben Fine’s Systems of Provision (SoP) approach as the theoretical framework, which stands out amongst the various theories seeking to explain social policy trajectories. A crucial benefit of the SoP approach is that it encourages and facilitates a context and system-specific analysis, helping to understand how contextual factors and structures determine consumption outcomes in a specific setting. Moreover, it takes account of both social dynamics and constructs as well as global trends, such as globalisation and neo-liberalisation, which impact processes and narratives as well as the meaning that participants within a system of provision attach to the consumption of a specific good and/or service.

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