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Restructuring Welfare: European Perspectives (SO918-20)

Topics covered

The following is an indicative list of topics for this module; precise seminar content may change from year to year.

  • Introduction: the European Union, the single market and welfare
  • European comparative welfare theories and their critics
  • Globalization, EMU, financial crises and welfare state restructuring
  • Promoting European welfare: the single market and the EU's changing remit
  • Lisbon and After: the EES and its instruments
  • Transforming welfare: East European perspectives
  • Equal opportunities: women in the European Union
  • Migration and its consequences: social policy responses
  • The demographic crisis and the future of pensions
  • Democracy vs. the market: the politics of protest
Timing and CATS

This module will run in the Spring Term and is worth 20 CATS.

In recent years, the role of the state in social welfare has changed profoundly. Since the mid-1980s, UK governments have tried to reduce the role of the public sector in the provision of welfare by cutting both the level of and access to welfare benefits and by shifting the role of government from welfare provider to welfare guarantor. This path is still, with some modifications, followed by many European governments. The general strategy is presaged on neo-liberal ideologies that assume market competition between private providers generates better quality and more efficient provision than do centralised state-funded systems. It also assumes that easy access to public welfare creates social dependency: the object has been to restore welfare claimants to full independence by returning them to the labour market.

In recent years, in its efforts to promote growth in the context of a single market, the European Union has reinforced these strategies, notably following the financial crash of 2008 and subsequent Euro crises: albeit much resisted by populations in older member states where state welfare systems were (and remain) among the most highly developed in the western world. Post Lisbon (2000), reductions in unemployment and the nature of social expenditure have both been centrally monitored by the Commission with a view to increasing employability, particularly among older workers and women.

Programme content

We focus on welfare interventions in recent years, taking examples both from the UK and from the European Union, examining current demographic and economic challenges collectively faced. In particular, we examine strategies designed to increase employability: welfare to work initiatives and their consequences; the impact of market reform on pension systems; policies addressing migrant workers across the EU. This will involve an analysis of the welfare ‘models’ found within the EU and the role played by EU institutions in shaping new options to promote harmonisation between different national systems. Particular attention is also paid to labour market change and the impact this has had in provoking reform of social welfare provision. As these issues are highly topical, they have generated a substantial literature whose appreciation is essential for any postgraduate study of social policy.

Module Director:
Noel Whiteside

Sample reading list (PDF Document)


Politics, Community, and Civic Engagement Research Cluster

Sociology Prospective Postgraduates