RECON Online Working Paper 2011/18

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Democratic Boundaries in the US and Europe

Inequality, Localisation and Voluntarism in Social Welfare Provision


Tess Altman and David G. Mayes (University of Auckland, New Zealand)




Our aim in this paper is to explore three related trends which have emerged in recent years that are contributing to important changes in the way both social welfare and democratic decision making over its form and content interact. These trends are: growing inequality, an increasing devolution of powers to local authorities and institutions, and a rise in voluntary provision and contributions. These trends have important consequences for social welfare, which is essentially redistributive. On the one hand, increasing localisation can permit a much better focus on the needs of local communities and improve incentives and efficiency, while on the other it can facilitate increasing polarisation. The match between decision making and democratic control can alter either positively or negatively, depending on the context. The rise of voluntarism may be a reinforcing or offsetting factor. These trends appear strongly in North America. This paper explores them using the examples of Workfare, Business Improvement Districts and Education. In particular we consider the consequences of increasing inequality, localisation, and voluntarism for European countries and the evolution of democratic relationships in the European Union.





Democracy ― Educational Policy ― European Social Model ― Governance ― Social Policy ― Welfare State




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