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Welfare Reform on the Web (December 2008): Welfare state - overseas

Ages, generations and the social contract: the demographic challenges facing the welfare state

J. Veron, S. Pennec and J. Lagare (editors)

Dordrecht: Springer, 2007

Our societies are ageing. The family is changing. Labour force behaviour is evolving. The welfare states are currently facing three main challenges: ensure satisfactory living conditions for the elderly without increasing the cost burden on the active population, reduce social inequality, and maintain equity between successive generations. In this book, researchers from different countries compare their experiences and offer contrasting views on the future of social protection. They consider the theoretical aspects of the intergenerational debate, relations between generations within the family, the living standards of elderly people, and the question of social time.

The comparative political economy of parental leave and child care: evidence from twenty OECD countries

P.A. Lambert

Social Politics, vol. 15, 2008, p. 315-344

This article explores the reasons behind the variations in policies that support working mothers across 20 OECD countries. The author has constructed a new and expanded index of policies that affect women's ability to balance work and family and uses this to test competing explanations drawn from the welfare state and feminist literature as well as recent scholarship on the role of business and the varieties of capitalism. The index measures maternity and parental leave and childcare provision from 1984-85, 1994-95, and 2001-03. Results show that political and economic institutions that fragment and decentralise interest representation are significant impediments to the expansion of maternal employment policies. A higher number of veto points and decentralised employer organisations greatly increase the chances that those opposed will be able to block these policies. On the other hand, having more women in parliament is consistently associated with more generous childcare and parental leave policies.

Demography as a push toward gender equality? Current reforms of German family policy

A. Henninger, C. Wimbauer and R. Dmbrowski

Social Politics, vol. 15, 2008, p. 287-314

In 1986 a conservative German government introduced parenting benefit and a maternity leave entitlement. The benefit was means tested, the duration of the payment was subsequently prolonged to two years, with the option of the mother taking a further year of unpaid leave. In combination with tax penalties for dual earner couples, gender discrimination in the labour market, and a lack of childcare provision, the benefit created incentives for mothers to stay at home and care for their children. In 2007, Germany replaced the benefit with an income-related payment designed to replace earnings, introduced two months paternity leave, and reduced the duration to entitlement to receive the cash transfer to a maximum of fourteen months. These reforms were designed both to encourage mothers to return to work and to raise the birth rate. While the new settlement offers better opportunities for highly qualified parents, it also leads to increased social inequalities between families.

Patterns of development in work/family reconciliation policies for parents in France, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK in the 2000s

J. Lewis and others

Social Politics, vol. 15, 2008, p. 261-286

In all Western EU member states in the 2000s, policies designed to facilitate the combination of paid and unpaid work in the form of child care, parental leave, and reduced/flexible working hours have assumed greater prominence. The main concern has been to raise women's employment rates, with a particular focus on mothers. This article maps the development of childcare services, parental leave entitlement and flexible working practices in France, Germany, the UK and the Netherlands. The four countries started the twenty-first century with different patterns of female labour market participation, different attitudes to the question of whether mothers of young children should work, and different policy packages. There are also different degrees of tension in each of these countries regarding mothers' employment, the role of fathers in care work, and the needs of children. Policy changes have been influenced by these differing patterns of labour market behaviour and attitudes towards parental involvement in work and care.

Reforming the Bismarckian welfare systems

B. Palier and C. Martin (editors)

Oxford: Blackwell, 2008

This book organises comprehensive and up to date information on European welfare state reforms in an analytical framework which allows a new approach to social policy changes. It systematically compares the development of all social programmes over the last three decades in Continental Europe. It demonstrates that, contrary to the common view, 'Bismarckian' welfare states have changed significantly. Reforms have followed a similar path, starting with a 'labour shedding strategy', giving way in the 1990s to attempts at retrenchment and to the spread of 'institutional' reforms aimed at changing the bases of the systems (financing mechanisms, management rules). All these have enabled the multiplication of structural reforms in line with the new global social policy agenda: activation policies, new funded schemes in pension provision, market mechanisms in health, development of care policies to reconcile work and family life.

The uneven impact of the European Employment Strategy on member states' employment policies: a comparative analysis

M. Mailand

Journal of European Social Policy, vol. 18, 2008, p.353-365

The European Employment Strategy (EES) was created in the mid-1990s to co-ordinate attempts by EU member states to address persistent high levels of unemployment. This article analyses the impact of the EES on the employment policies of four member states (Spain, Poland, Denmark and the UK) and finds that its influence has been variable, but, generally speaking, limited. Generally speaking, the EES has not had any great impact on countries, such as the UK and Denmark, where employment policy was already in compliance with what later became the EES prior to 1997. A high level of national consensus on employment policy issues has also acted as a barrier to strategic use of the EES. Euro-scepticism has a similar effect of shielding domestic policy from the influence of the EES. However, strong economic and political dependence on the EU increase EES impact, as shown in the cases of Spain and Poland.

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