How Workfare Shapes Social Solidarity: Cross-National Trends in Workfare and Public Opinion Since the 1980s

Friday, July 14, 2017
JWS - Room J15 (J375) (University of Glasgow)
Alexander Horn , Department of Political Science and Government, Aarhus University
Anthony Kevins , Department of Political Science, Aarhus University
Kees van Kersbergen , Aarhus University
The paper investigates the thus far understudied effects of ‘workfare’ reforms on social solidarity and support for the welfare state. Many scholars have pointed to the importance of the shift away from traditional welfare programmes toward so-called ‘workfare’ policies, which place an increased emphasis on conditions and obligations for unemployed persons who want to draw on benefits. Yet there have been few systematic studies of these reforms, and no existing study has analysed the effect of these reforms on public opinion in a cross-national context. In light of work suggesting that there is a reciprocal relationship between social policy reforms and preferences, this is a major shortcoming.

We therefore set out to study the impact of workfare reforms on public opinion and examine whether these effects differ in different types of welfare states. To do so, we developed a new measure of workfare reform – the ‘workfare balance’ – that measures the rights and obligations of unemployment benefit recipients. We then coded thousands of laws to assemble a comprehensive and nuanced new database on workfare reforms across 18 OECD countries from the 1980s. This unique workfare balance database allows us to go beyond the existing country-specific studies on the effects of workfare reforms on social solidarity and support for the welfare state. Methodologically, we therefore triangulate in-depth country case studies with quantitative multi-level analyses, with the latter analysing ISSP survey data alongside changes in workfare balances. Results will provide important insights on the attitudinal consequences of workfare reforms.