scispace - formally typeset

Journal ArticleDOI

Sophie's Choice: Social attitudes to welfare state retrenchment in bailed-out Portugal

27 Apr 2015-European Societies (Routledge)-Vol. 17, Iss: 3, pp 351-371

AbstractThis article examines social attitudes towards social rights in Portugal. It utilizes original survey data from 2013 to study the distribution of welfare attitudes in a context of economic austerity and welfare retrenchment. The main argument is that there are at least two sources of preference formation regarding public social provision: one is universalistic (or needs-based), and the other is contributory. These two logics frame choices concerning the future of the welfare state in Portugal. We explore the determinants of this choice through three hypotheses: dualization between insiders and outsiders (H1), the type of welfare regime (H2) and social rights consciousness (H3). Our findings suggest that choice between universalistic and contributory models is not impervious to macro-institutional factors and labour market performance. The paper's main contribution, however, is to empirically demonstrate that this choice is significantly shaped by pre-existing understandings of social rights in Por...

Topics: Welfare state (59%), Social rights (57%), Retrenchment (56%), Welfare (55%), Survey data collection (50%)

Summary (3 min read)

1. Introduction

  • In times of austerity, welfare states are often called into question.
  • In crisis-ridden Europe, most political debates, at the national and supra-national levels, revolve around income redistribution trade-offs.
  • The troika’s intervention marks the first attempt to restructure the Portuguese welfare state according to non-universalistic principles.
  • According to the second logic, if one is aware that social rights imply obligations, one may favour a targeted view in which the enjoyment of social rights is based upon the extent of one’s individual contribution and need.
  • In section 3, the authors discuss the data collection and the selection of variables, and present the regression models mobilized to test the hypotheses.

2. Literature Review and Hypotheses

  • The first hypothesis takes its inspiration from recent literature on the ‘dualization’ of advanced post-industrial societies (Häusermann and Schwander 2010; Rueda 2005), which suggests western populations are increasingly divided into two groups with contrasting job market performances.
  • This has led dualization scholars to hypothesize that it is primarily for reasons of self-interest that outsiders ‘prefer policies that allocate resources based on need, rather than contribution-payments’, while insiders favour: ‘policies that reward their – more continuous and stable – labour market performance’ (Häusermann and Schwander 2010: 3).
  • The authors second hypothesis (H2) is thus that respondents are generally more likely to choose the universalistic, all-rights option than any of the other more contributory understandings.
  • Second, the recent rise in protest activities in Portugal in response to austerity measures and welfare cuts (Baumgarten 2013) is likely to have contributed to an increase in Portuguese awareness of what social rights mean and what welfare provision implies, i.e. ‘social rights consciousness’.
  • Rights are contested not only within oneself (i.e., one’s legal consciousness is a dialectical process, responsive to concrete action-problems in real world situations, which evolves over time potentially in contradictory ways), but between different selves (politicians, judges, and ordinary citizens, for example, often disagree about the interpretation and application of rights).

3. Data and Methods

  • The authors data emerges from an original and nationally representative survey of the Portuguese population on citizen rights and obligations, governmental responsibility towards welfare and social provision, and welfare arrangements.
  • The survey replicates some parts of the 2008 module on welfare attitudes of the Fourth Round of the European Social Survey (ESS), to which it adds blocks of questions from pre-existing surveys (International Social Survey Programme 2004), as well as new ones (e.g. questions on ‘social rights consciousness’).
  • A survey company especially hired and trained conducted face-to-face interviews at respondents’ homes.
  • Fieldwork took place between 8 and 30 April 2013.3 Descriptive statistics of the sample are summarized in Table 1. [Table 1 here].

3.1 Variables

  • The dependent variables are about which social rights people believe should be protected from welfare retrenchment.
  • The authors derive them from the following survey question: ‘If the government had to reduce social spending, which of the following rights do you consider 3 A copy of the questionnaire is available from the authors upon request.
  • To avoid this bias, the authors phrased the question in positive terms.
  • Conversely, the authors take all other answers (none, one, or two rights) to reflect a contributory understanding of public social provision, with certain social risks or vulnerabilities given priority over others.
  • The independent variables include reported political participation, ideology, social rights consciousness, and socio-economic controls.

3.2 Models

  • The modelling strategy aims to capture four different opinions, each one representing perspectives on universalism-targeting spectrum, based on number of rights that people argued should be universally guaranteed even in times of crisis: choosing one right represents full targeting; choosing two represents targeting; choosing three rights represents universalism; and choosing all four rights represents full universalism.
  • The authors created dummy variables for each type of response and used them as dependent variables in binary logistic regression models.
  • The distribution of responses suggests that the sample is almost evenly split between those who chose a universalistic model and those who chose a contributory model.
  • Model C includes respondents who chose two rights that should be universally guaranteed.
  • Model D is composed of respondents who chose only one right, which is the most contributory of their groups of opinion.

Discussion

  • Results of the binary logistic models are provided in Table 3. [Table 3 here].
  • According to this hypothesis, periods of economic austerity, such as that which Portugal has experienced since 2011, are expected to lead to a dualization of welfare attitudes, separating ‘insiders’ from ‘outsiders’.
  • Like unemployed people, housewives and caretakers are 80% less likely to choose Model B (three rights) than those who are employed since neither group has contributory careers which enable them to aspire to pensions of reform or health care schemes reserved for insiders.
  • The fact that the authors have not been able to identify similar attitudinal patterns on the part of insiders prevents us from fully confirming H1.
  • Underlying individual choice for more universalistic and more contributory models seems to be a consistent set of ways of thinking and talking about social rights.

Conclusion

  • In this article the authors have examined how social attitudes towards the welfare state fare under conditions of economic austerity.
  • It would be useful to shed light on the processes through which social agents become ‘outsiders’ or ‘insiders’ in different periods of their lives as a result of certain life choices or eventualities, and how this intersects with their gender, ethnicity, and class position.
  • Another hypothesis in the literature tested here was the ‘regime’ hypothesis.
  • In sum, in this paper the authors have presented an overview of the social attitudes of the Portuguese towards the welfare state at a time when they were confronted with a hard choice.
  • Only time will tell if their decision will prove as difficult to live with as Sophie’s choice.

Did you find this useful? Give us your feedback

...read more

Content maybe subject to copyright    Report

1
Sophie’s Choice: Social Attitudes to Welfare State Retrenchment in Bailed-Out
Portugal
Filipe Carreira da Silva
1
and Laura Valadez-Martinez
2
Abstract
This article examines social attitudes towards social rights in Portugal. It utilizes original
survey data from 2013 to study the distribution of welfare attitudes in a context of economic
austerity and welfare retrenchment. The main argument is that there are at least two sources
of preference-formation regarding public social provision: one is universalistic (or needs-
based), the other is contributory. These two logics frame choices concerning the future of the
welfare state in Portugal. We explore the determinants of this choice through three
hypotheses: dualization between insiders and outsiders (H1); the type of welfare regime (H2),
and social rights consciousness (H3). Our findings suggest that choice between universalistic
and contributory models is not impervious to macro-institutional factors and labour market
performance. The paper’s main contribution, however, is to empirically demonstrate that this
choice is significantly shaped by pre-existing understandings of social rights in Portugal,
namely its politically contested character.
Keywords
Welfare attitudes; social rights; social rights consciousness; welfare regimes; dualization;
Portugal
1 University of Cambridge, fcs23@cam.ac.uk
2 Loughborough University, L.J.Valadez@Lboro.ac.uk

2
1. Introduction
In times of austerity, welfare states are often called into question. The current era of austerity
in Europe is no exception. Especially since 2009, there has been a heated debate involving
governments, policy-makers, and the public at large on the future of the welfare state in
Europe. Political debate and decision-making benefit from detailed and up-dated knowledge
concerning people’s preferences. Hence the main question of this paper: What are people’s
welfare preferences in a context of economic crisis and austerity? This question is important
for at least two reasons. First, income redistribution by the government is a central feature of
all industrialized countries. Over the course of the twentieth century, and particularly since
the Second World War, political and economic modernization entailed a dramatic expansion
of public social welfare programmes, that is, the fundamental instrument of income
redistribution by the government alongside fiscal policies. Second, political conflicts over
redistribution, already one of the most contested issues in democracies, tend to become more
acute in times of austerity. In crisis-ridden Europe, most political debates, at the national and
supra-national levels, revolve around income redistribution trade-offs. This is especially the
case in southern European countries such as Greece and Portugal, where such trade-offs have
become all the more obvious as austerity policies imposed by international lenders made
social expenditure a preferred target, including pension reforms, unemployment subsidies,
and health care benefits. Moreover, there is mounting evidence that the general public’s
preferences regarding welfare provision seem amenable to change in difficult times (e.g.
Ervasti et al. 2012; Fridberg 2012). Experiencing the worst economic crisis in a generation
while being forced by international lenders to implement unprecedented welfare retrenchment
programmes, Greece and Portugal provide excellent case studies with which to study
evolving attitudes towards welfare.
This paper focuses upon Portugal, which requested international financial assistance

3
in April 2011 from a troika of organizations including the European Commission, the
European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. Portugal provides an ideal case
study for testing the resilience of universalistic understandings of welfare provision. This
paper offers an analysis of the distribution of social attitudes towards the welfare state in
Portugal, two years into the implementation of the austerity programme imposed by
international lenders. The democratic Portuguese welfare state was erected according to
strictly universalistic terms and it has never been seriously contested by neoliberal ideas. The
troika’s intervention marks the first attempt to restructure the Portuguese welfare state
according to non-universalistic principles.
Portugal inaugurated the third wave of democratization in the late twentieth century
with the Carnations Revolution of April 25, 1974 (Huntington 1991). The new democracy
defined itself in terms of a break with the Estado Novo, a corporativist dictatorship created in
1933, and oriented towards European social democratic and socialist models. This is
particularly obvious as regards public social provision. The Portuguese Constitution of 1975
contains what is still the longest and most detailed section on social rights in the world (Ben-
Bassat and Dahan 2008), with a strong emphasis upon principles of generality, gratuity,
decentralization, and universalism. Social rights were no longer to be conceived as
prerogatives of certain occupational groups, but as citizenship entitlements to be enjoyed by
all citizens. These constitutional promises had institutional implications. The democratic
welfare state was implemented in broadly universalistic terms, with universal public systems
in the domains of health care, social security, and education (Vieira and Silva 2010; 2013).
As in other southern European countries, however, such universalistic promises conflict with
the high degree of fragmentation, familialism, and persistent gaps in social provision that
characterize the Portuguese welfare state (Ferrera 1996, 1997; Mingione 2001; Rhodes 1997;
Trifiletti 1999; Karamessini 2008). The Portuguese welfare state can thus be described as

4
belonging to a southern European sub-type of the Continental state-corporatist model, in
which universalistic elements predominate despite the persistence of clientelist and
corporatist elements leading to fragmentation (Guibentif 1996; see also Leibfried 1993 on a
Latin-Rim welfare model). The existing survey-based literature on Portuguese welfare
attitudes lends support to this description (Cabral 1997). Briefly, this is the background
against which the first attempt at the systematic restructuring of the Portuguese welfare state
along non-universalist principles, embodied in the May 2011 Memorandum of Understanding
on Specific Economic Conditionality between the Portuguese government and the troika of
international lenders, was signed.
This study utilizes individual-level data from a survey applied to a representative
sample of the Portuguese adult population in the spring of 2013 to explore attitudes in a
context of welfare cuts resulting from the troika’s intervention. The dependent variable is the
opinion on which social rights should be universally guaranteed in a context of austerity. The
main argument is that there are at least two sources of preference-formation regarding public
social provision. According to the first logic, if one considers that social rights are inherent in
human nature and core components of citizenship, one would favour a universalistic view in
which everybody deserves access to social rights, irrespective of the level of individual
contribution. In broad terms, this is the understanding enshrined in the Portuguese
Constitution, consistently upheld by the Constitutional Court’s jurisprudence since 1982, and
which inspired the establishment of a universalistic social protection system, including a
National Health Service primarily financed by taxation. According to the second logic, if one
is aware that social rights imply obligations, one may favour a targeted view in which the
enjoyment of social rights is based upon the extent of one’s individual contribution and need.
This logic inspired the old dictatorial regime’s social provision schemes, defined largely in
corporatist terms, which, albeit with important differences, can also be found in the troika’s

5
policy preferences. In this paper, we explore both logics to explain individual-level support
for the public provision of education, health care, social security, and housing in a context
marked by fiscal austerity and the (historically unprecedented) political questioning of the
universalist character of public social provision.
The article is organized as follows. Section 2 presents the hypotheses and positions
them amid the literature of welfare preferences: the dualization hypothesis (H1), the regime
hypothesis (H2), and the social rights consciousness hypothesis (H3). In section 3, we discuss
the data collection and the selection of variables, and present the regression models mobilized
to test the hypotheses. In section 4, we examine the results of the regression analyses and
discuss these findings by reference to the literature. We conclude with an overview of our
findings and suggestions for future research.

Citations
More filters

Journal ArticleDOI
Abstract: Do attitudes towards the welfare state change in response to economic crises? Addressing this question is sometimes difficult because of the lack of longitudinal data. This article deals with this empirical challenge using survey data from the 2008 European Social Survey and from our own follow-up survey of Spring 2013 to track welfare attitudes at the brink and at the peak of the socio-economic crisis in one of the hardest hit countries: Portugal. The literature on social policy preferences predicts an increased polarisation in opinions towards the welfare state between different groups within society – in particular between labour market insiders and outsiders. However, the prediction has scarcely been tested empirically. A notoriously dualised country, Portugal provides a critical setting in which to test this hypothesis. The results show attitudinal change, and this varies according to labour market vulnerability. However, we observe no polarisation and advance alternative explanations for why this is so.

5 citations


References
More filters

Book
01 Jan 1990
Abstract: Few discussions in modern social science have occupied as much attention as the changing nature of welfare states in Western societies. Gosta Esping-Andersen, one of the foremost contributors to current debates on this issue, here provides a new analysis of the character and role of welfare states in the functioning of contemporary advanced Western societies. Esping-Andersen distinguishes three major types of welfare state, connecting these with variations in the historical development of different Western countries. He argues that current economic processes, such as those moving toward a postindustrial order, are shaped not by autonomous market forces but by the nature of states and state differences. Fully informed by comparative materials, this book will have great appeal to all those working on issues of economic development and postindustrialism. Its audience will include students of sociology, economics, and politics."

16,481 citations


Book
Paul Pierson1
01 Jan 1996
Abstract: This essay seeks to lay the foundation for an understanding of welfare state retrenchment. Previous discussions have generally relied, at least implicitly, on a reflexive application of theories designed to explain welfare state expansion. Such an approach is seriously flawed. Not only is the goal of retrenchment (avoiding blame for cutting existing programs) far different from the goal of expansion (claiming credit for new social benefits), but the welfare state itself vastly alters the terrain on which the politics of social policy is fought out. Only an appreciation of how mature social programs create a new politics can allow us to make sense of the welfare state's remarkable resilience over the past two decades of austerity. Theoretical argument is combined with quantitative and qualitative data from four cases (Britain, the United States, Germany, and Sweden) to demonstrate the shortcomings of conventional wisdom and to highlight the factors that limit or facilitate retrenchment success.

3,055 citations


Journal ArticleDOI
Abstract: This article tries to identify some common traits of the welfare states of Italy, Spain, Por tugal and Greece, with special attention to in stitutional and political aspects.

2,429 citations


MonographDOI
Abstract: This study explores the different ways people view the law. It identifies three common narratives: one is based on the idea of the law as magisterial and remote; another views the law as a game with rules that can be manipulated to one's advantage; and a third narrative describes the law as an arbitrary power to be actively resisted. Drawing on more than 400 extensive case studies, the text presents individual experiences interwoven with an analysis that charts a coherent theory of legality. It depicts the institution as it is lived: strange and familiar, imperfect and ordinary, and at the centre of daily life.

1,284 citations


Journal ArticleDOI
David Rueda1
Abstract: In much of the political economy literature, social democratic governments are assumed to defend the interests of labor The main thrust of this article is that labor is divided into those with secure employment (insiders) and those without (outsiders) I argue that the goals of social democratic parties are often best served by pursuing policies that benefit insiders while ignoring the interests of outsiders I analyze Eurobarometer data and annual macrodata from 16 OECD countries from 1973 to 1995 I explore the question of whether strategies prevalent in the golden age of social democracy have been neglected and Left parties have abandoned the goal of providing equality and security to the most vulnerable sectors of the labor market By combining research on political economy, institutions, and political behavior, my analysis demonstrates that insider–outsider politics are fundamental to a fuller explanation of government partisanship, policy-making, and social democracy since the 1970s

522 citations


Frequently Asked Questions (2)
Q1. What contributions have the authors mentioned in the paper "Sophie’s choice: social attitudes to welfare state retrenchment in bailed-out portugal" ?

This article examines social attitudes towards social rights in Portugal. It utilizes original survey data from 2013 to study the distribution of welfare attitudes in a context of economic austerity and welfare retrenchment. The paper ’ s main contribution, however, is to empirically demonstrate that this choice is significantly shaped by pre-existing understandings of social rights in Portugal, namely its politically contested character. Their findings suggest that choice between universalistic and contributory models is not impervious to macro-institutional factors and labour market performance. 

In particular, outsiderness emerges from their study as a category whose salience is as much related to one ’ s job market performance, as it is to the possibility of aspiring to concrete social policies. Future studies should explore this finding, both longitudinally ( e. g. before and after the crisis ), and cross-nationally ( e. g. to identify possible common patterns among Southern European countries ). Although circumscribed to one country and a single year, their results suggest that this neo-Meadian variable be included in future comparative and longitudinal studies of welfare attitudes. This finding can contribute to correct the underlying materialism of some of the ‘ dualization ’ scholarship, which sees insiderness and outsiderness as individual attributes arising from specific labour market careers, rather than as floating signifiers in which the authors all potentially fit at one point or another.