by Birgit Pfau-Effinger, Professor of Sociology and Research Director of the Centre for Globalisation and Governance, University of Hamburg, and Professor for Comparative Welfare State Research, Dept. of Political Science and Public Administration, University of Southern Denmark
New welfare state policies for family care work
In the ‘housewife marriage’––the dominant form of the family in most mid-20th century European societies––senior care was mainly organised as unpaid work in the private family household, and was the wife’s duty. Since the 1990s most welfare states have strengthened the attendant social rights and infrastructure to the advantage of senior citizen care provision. As a consequence of this welfare state change, informal, unpaid work in the private sphere of the family has, in part, been transformed into formal, paid care work in the formal employment system outside the family. Several studies have analysed this change in a cross-national perspective (see Pavolini & Ranci, 2008).
In 2013, the University of Southern Denmark hired me together with a young Romanian colleague. While I was able to join straight away, she had to delay her arrival and extend her contract in Germany for an extra two months. Otherwise, she would have partly lost the entitlements accruing from her previous university’s pension scheme. This is because the minimum period to acquire occupational pension rights in Germany is five years. Hence, her right to the free movement of workers, guaranteed by the EU since 1958, was infringed.
It is curious how little traction the idea of the social investment welfare state (SIWS) has had in British social policy discussion. The basic idea behind SIWS is that some forms of public social spending contribute positively to creating an innovative economy. Spending on education, skills and active labour market policy are the most obvious elements, but spending on high-quality childcare is also part of the concept. This is partly for its contribution to early-years education but also for making life reasonable for the two-parent-earner family that increasingly characterizes the most productive economies. Of course, elements of this enter British discussions, especially education, but it comes in piecemeal, whereas it gains most strength Continue reading The social investment welfare state: the missing theme in British social policy debates→
Our collaboration started off debating each other’s research, over a midday cup of chai tea latte at a Starbucks in New York City. NYC is the home of The Luxembourg Income Study Center at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (LIS Center), where Rense Nieuwenhuis served as a visiting scholar and Laurie C. Maldonado is currently a predoctoral scholar.
“Arguments about poverty,” note Paul Copeland and Mary Daly in a recent article, “go to the heart of political disagreement in Europe,” because they express profound differences about social policy and models of capitalism. The European commitment to fight poverty and social exclusion has thus moved over the years, from the ambitious decision to make social inclusion an explicit goal governed by the new Open Method of Coordination (OMC) with the Lisbon strategy in 2000, to a more circumscribed vision giving priority to economic growth and job creation after 2005, and to an ambiguous but nevertheless explicit quantitative target agreed upon in the summer of 2010, “to lift at least 20 million people out of the risk of poverty and social exclusion” by 2020. But changing orientations at the European level are not the only manifestation of political disagreement about poverty. Important differences are also expressed through the distinct ways member states have interpreted the common objectives. Continue reading The Politics of Poverty in the European Union→
Sure Start services are popular with families in the UK, but not all families who might benefit choose to attend. Two methods which are commonly used to promote Sure Start are leaflets and door-to-door visits. Both methods are known to be effective in other contexts, such as mobilizing citizens to vote or encouraging them to recycle, but, prior to our study, there was no evidence of their effectiveness in promoting attendance at local services. Working in partnership with a local authority provider of Sure Start services, we set out to test whether a leaflet about Sure Start or a door-to-door visit from an outreach worker are persuasive methods of attracting families to attend Sure Start centres.
We used a randomised controlled trial (RCT), which is fairly novel in research on public services, yet has the potential to provide a convincing estimate of the effect of policy interventions. Using the register of births, we identified children born in the previous eighteen months, whose families had not yet attended Sure Start. We randomly assigned families to one of three conditions: a leaflet about Sure Start, a visit from an outreach worker, or a control group that received no special treatment. Over several weeks we measured the outcome, by recording whether or not the families attended their local Sure Start centre. We compared attendance by families in the three groups to see whether attendance differed across the different interventions. The advantage of random assignment is that membership of the treatment and control groups are very similar in all respects. Therefore, any differences in observed outcomes between the groups can reasonably be attributed to the intervention rather than any other cause. We found that the brief doorstep visits and leaflets implemented in this study were not a worthwhile way of promoting Sure Start to families who are not already engaged: although we cannot rule out a small effect, the results of the visits and leaflets were not significantly different from the effect of the usual service.
We believe that RCTs could usefully be employed much more extensively in the evaluation of public services. Find out more from our book, Nudge, Nudge, Think, Think: Using Experiments to Change Civic Behaviour, in which we describe the RCT method and offer examples of its use in testing various interventions to promote civic behaviour such as recycling, charitable giving and organ donation.