RECON Online Working Paper 2010/26

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Consumer Choice, Welfare Reform and Participation in Europe 

A Framework for Analysis 


Waltraud Schelkle, Joan Costa-i-Font and Christa van Wijnbergen (London School of Economics and Political Science)



The objective of this paper is to study the effects on solidarity, risk, and equity of the introduction of choice and competition into the provision of public services. Many European countries have embraced the choice agenda in welfare arrangements with a view of improving efficiency and/or quality. For example, citizens are freer to choose between health and education services than they were a decade ago. We first examine the motivations behind the consumer choice agenda, including the role of the European Union in enhancing choice within social and welfare institutions. Second, we analyze how the introduction of choice may introduce new trade-offs and affect the pooling of risks in European welfare states. Third, we outline the research methodology for our case studies on education, employment services and long-term care. The paper explores the possibility that rather than presenting a challenge to solidaristic welfare citizenship, the introduction of choice may in the longer term safeguard the public provision of services by providing the basis for a new political consensus.


Political Economy - Risk-Sharing Mechanisms - Social Policy - Social Regulation - Welfare State

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