Attitudes Towards Welfare State Institutions: New Perspectives for the Comparative Welfare State Analysis
Welfare states are facing increasing external and internal pressures which are especially related to the processes of globalisation and demographic change. While the responsibilities of the welfare state have increased, the financial scope for social policy intervention has been limited. In the current context of permanent austerity social policy reforms go beyond simple cost containment measures and welfare states are more and more confronted with structural changes - a process that eventually will affect the legitimacy of the welfare state. By comparing 15 member states of the European Union it has been analyzed whether certain relations between welfare state institutions and patterns of orientation can be identified. Since institutions that integrate the total population are perceived in a different way than those that are targeted at specific periods of the life course or at certain socioeconomic groups, the project focuses on different welfare state institutions: first, health care systems, second, family policy measures, and third, social policy measures against poverty are included in the comparative analysis. According to our analyses, attitudes on minimum income protection systems depend on the generosity of benefits and unemployment. In situations of high unemployment and low benefit levels, the public is in favour of these systems and demands increased state intervention. When unemployment is lower, support also drops and high benefit levels may polarize public opinion. In the field of family policy, attitudes are related to the type and generosity of existing policies for families. In countries with generous support for the dual-earner model of the family, the level of satisfaction is highest and families perceive fewer difficulties combining work and family life. In most countries, irrespective of the institutional context, the financially better off were more satisfied and perceived fewer difficulties to combine work- and family life. Almost everywhere in Europe, there is high public support for state responsibility in healthcare. Satisfaction with the healthcare system, in contrast, is more strongly related to specific institutional arrangements. In healthcare systems with lower levels of expenditure and general practitioners and higher co-payments, the overall level of satisfaction is lower. In contrast, healthcare systems with a long tradition of comprehensive coverage regardless of occupation or income seem to generate rather homogenous attitudinal patterns. Countries with high levels of expenditure, high density of general practitioners and free choice of doctors, finally, show the highest levels of satisfaction but also more pronounced differences between social classes.