Neil Gilbert, Transformation of the Welfare State.
Over the last twenty years, comparative social policy scholarship has become very interested in the question of whether the welfare state has been retrenched, dismantled or reconstructed and if so, to what extent and with what consequences. This debate has generated a number of very different answers which range from an optimistic assessment that the policy changes introduced since the Reagan years have not made much difference, to a pessimistic assessment that the `Golden Era' of the welfare state is over. Neil Gilbert's new book takes up this question and offers a definitive answer. Reviewing a mind boggling amount of information, he concludes that the welfare state has indeed been transformed. The era of institutional welfare based on notions of social rights and entitlements and is over and has been replaced by what he calls an enabling state which seeks to integrate the poor and needy into the market economy and to provide social services through market mechanisms. In an era of triumphant market capitalism, social policy has been reshaped to conform and compliment the logic and ethic of the market.
In the core of the book, Gilbert explores various dimensions of this new, market conforming social welfare system in more depth. He shows, first, that the social protection approach of the traditional welfare state has been replaced by an emphasis on social inclusion which, in effect, means that needy people are now expected to work if they are to receive social benefits. Second, he points out that, rather than provide services through public agencies, governments now make extensive use of the market to deliver these services. He shows, third, that this trend has been accompanied by a far greater use of selective social services and targeted income benefits than before. Finally, he suggests that there has been a noticable trend away from notions of welfare as citizenship to the communitarian idea that people are members of communities and that social welfare should be more directly linked to the idea of community.
Gilbert's account of the way social policy has changed as a result of the emergence of the enabling state is masterful, but it will be contested by those who believe that he exaggerates the extent to which state welfare provisions have been modified. It will also be contested by those who believe that governments are still far too excessively involved in social welfare. They will argue that the notion of the enabling state still smacks of welfare paternalism and interference. Despite Gilbert's careful analysis, his own normative assessment of the enabling state and its reliance on the market is ambivalent. On the one hand, he derides those who oppose privatization but on the other hand, he regrets the loss of collective responsibility and caring. Unfortunately, he does not devote much space to this issue using only one chapter of the book to discuss the way welfare capitalism has harmed rather then helped those in need. Although Gilbert alludes to the benefits of a communitarian solution, this deserve more discussion and explication.
This is a book of great interest and profound scholarship from one of the country's leading thinkers on social welfare issues. It makes a major contribution to the social policy literature and deserves not only to be widely read but widely discussed. Hopefully, it will provoke an extensive debate on how an enabling state can transcend a commitment to promote market solutions to human ills and be worthy of the term's connotation. Perhaps, in the future, governments will adopt policies that will truly enable human beings, families and communities to attain the high standards of living the market has provided for some but not for others.
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|Publication:||Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Mar 1, 2003|
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