The social legitimacy of European welfare states after the age of austerity

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Although, previous studies of public support for the welfare state have shown that welfare attitudes are remarkable stable over time and remain quite unaffected by changes in contextual circumstances, the shock of the Great Recession and the policy responses afterwards might have had a more substantial impact on how people support welfare policies and evaluate their social system. For a systematic analysis of how welfare state legitimacy is affected in the decade of austerity after the crisis, a multidimensional perspective of welfare state attitudes is warranted. In this chapter I analyze the possible impact of severe material deprivation and differences in responses to the crisis on the (change in) attitudes towards different dimensions of the welfare state. I analyze how public support across a wide range of welfare state dimensions has changed – if at all – between 2008/9 and 2016/17, in 17 European countries. I use data from two waves of the European Social Survey (ESS), which include many different welfare attitudes and captures the important dimensions of welfare state legitimacy. Results show that people indeed hardly changed their opinions towards the welfare state. People still strongly believe that the government should redistribute incomes, feel that there is too much abuse and underuse of welfare provisions and still balance their opinions about the impact of the welfare state on poverty, equality and the state of the economy. Despite major developments in the field of economics and social policy, as well as in the cultural domain, these attitudes towards the welfare state remain largely unaffected. One exception is the strong and unanimous change in the perceptions that social benefits and services cost businesses too much in taxes and charges. People agree substantially less with this statement compared to 2008/9. It suggests that the neoliberal story that businesses need to be facilitated and not hampered by a too generous welfare state, has lost support across Europe. This leads to the conclusion that the welfare state is still going strong, thanks to or despite of austerity politics.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHandbook on austerity, populism and the welfare state
EditorsBent Greve
Place of PublicationCheltenham
PublisherEdward Elgar Publishing
ISBN (Electronic)9781789906745
ISBN (Print)9781789906738
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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