Reforms are seen as necessary to make welfare states sustainable. Yet, policymakers rarely specify what sustainability entails. Similarly, although the impact of climate change on society is growing, only recently researchers have begun to consider the implications of environmental changes for the future of welfare states. To address this gap, the project asked how researchers and policymakers can approach issues of welfare state and environmental sustainability in mutually supportive ways across policy fields.
The project was a collaboration between NOVA Norwegian Social Research, CICERO, Lund University, the University of Milan and the Austrian Academy of Science. The substantive work was divided in three sub-projects.
The first part asked how the meaning of sustainable welfare changes if we consider environmental concerns, taking as a starting point the literature on sustainable development. In the Handbook of European Social Policy, Schoyen and Hvinden (2017) argue that debates about the future of the welfare state should take into account the implications of environmental challenges. Especially climate change raises several questions for comparative welfare state research, ranging from issues of social justice and redistribution to the political challenges related to bringing together future climate and social policy. In a commentary in Critical Social Policy, Koch et al. address, from a sustainable welfare perspective, the scope for synergy between climate policy and social policy in the European Union and in member states. The EU 2020 Stragegy to some degree reflects ambitious goals in this regard. Yet, the EU and the member states struggle to convert the goals into actual policy. Büchs and Koch's book Postgrowth and Wellbeing: Challenges to Sustainable Welfare discusses the tensions between economic growth and human and planetary wellbeing.
The second sub-project examines the trends in individual attitudes across countries towards issues related to the provision of welfare and the environment. Analyses of international survey data suggest that during the last 25 years people's willingness to pay for environmental protection has declined while we note a strengthened support for redistribution. Jakobsson et al. investigate whether there is a relationship between people's willingness to pay for environmental protection and their attitudes towards income redistribution. The analysis, using comparative data from 14 countries in four continents, was unable to confirm a relationship between attitudes in the two areas. The finding suggests that policymakers, both internationally and at the national level, are confronted with a huge challenge in getting the public to embrace the idea of a society with small income inequalities and that at the same time combats environmental challenges. In this subject we also examined Manifesto Corpus data, containing longitudinal information on electoral programs since 1945, to analyse how far environmental issues have found entry into other policy fields and how social and ecological policy measures are discursively connected.
The third sub-project examined, based on a comparison of four country cases (NOR, GER, ITA, UK), what salience and meaning environmental and welfare state sustainability have across three key government departments (social affairs, finance and environment). Albeit with some country differences, government departments appear to differ fundamentally in their view of the national sustainability strategies as a tool to ensure that welfare, environmental and economic policies are compatible from a sustainability perspective. In the same countries, the project explored how a larger set of key political actors approach issues of welfare state sustainability. Germany stood out as the country with the most systematic approach and the highest degree of reflection. In a Norwegian book chapter, Hvinden and Schoyen conclude that compared with other OECD, Norway is doing relatively well when it comes to meeting the challenge of reconciling the goals of "social equalisation", "economic growth" and "caring for the climate", although the picture is ambiguous with regard to the latter. As part of the third sub-project, we also carried out an analysis of the relationships between social and environmental policies in the EU, against the backdrop of the notion of a 'sustainable welfare state'. Despite explicitly articulated ambitions to develop and implement policies that reconcile social, environmental and economic goals, progress towards these goals are disjointed. Efforts to coordinate across policy areas are characterised by ad-hoc initiatives rather than being supported by a coherent overarching strategy.
The results from the three sub-projects will be summarised and brought together in an edited book which will have chapter contributions from researchers from all five institutions participating in the project.
Project homepage: https://blogg.hioa
The project can lay claim to significant impact in several ways: It has
- Advanced the literature on sustainable welfare states and the eco-social agenda. The expected future publications will strengthen further the project's impact in this regard.
- Enhanced the knowledge base for reflection around how the interface between climate policy and social welfare policy is structured in the countries under study as well as at the European level.
- Increased awareness and interest, among academic peers, stakeholder and policymakers, in questions related to the eco-social agenda.
- Fostered and consolidated national and international research collaboration between the participating research institutions. For instance, NOVA and CICERO, two highly-regarded Norwegian research institutes, but it was the first time that they have undertaken joint research.
- Strengthened the expertise of individual researchers in a substantive area that is of growing importance and visibility.
Across Europe, governments struggle to make welfare states sustainable. Yet, policymakers and analysts rarely spell out the conditions for achieving such sustainability. Moreover, while the pressures created by demographic ageing are readily acknowledged, the implications of climate and environmental changes for welfare states have so far not been fully theorised nor adequately explored empirically. The main purpose of this project is to begin to fill this knowledge gap by asking how researchers and policymakers can tackle issues of social welfare and environmental sustainability in coordinated and mutually supportive ways across established policy fields. The work will be organised in four work packages (WPs) and carried out by a gender-balanced research team with complementary fields of expertise. This allows the overarching research question to be explored through a comparative lens and from three different angles with the help of quantitative and qualitative methods.
WP1 asks how the meaning of social welfare sustainability changes if we consider environmental concerns, employing as a starting point the literature on sustainable development.
WP2 examines, using international survey data, individual attitudes on issues related to social welfare arrangements and the environment and asks whether we can detect cross-national convergence or divergence.
WP3 explores, based on a comparison of four strategically chosen country cases (NOR, GER, ITA, UK), what salience and meaning environmental and welfare state sustainability have across three key government departments (social affairs, finance and environment).
WP4 synthesises the findings from WPs 1-3 and asks what conclusions we can draw with regard to the overarching project theme. WP4 ensures that cross-cutting issues are adequately discussed. The project will be supported by a scientific advisory board made up of three distinguished international scholars with complementary expertise relevant to the project.