DECOMMODIFICATION AND ITS EFFECTS: STUDYING THE CASE OF
UK AND AUSTRALIA
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DECOMMODIFICATION AND ITS EFFECTS: STUDYING THE CASE OF
UK AND AUSTRALIA
The effect of the different welfare regimes displays itself in the different social setups in the country. The political agendas and policy matters influence almost all sectors of the country, and therefore, in order to understand policy structures and their evolution, one must learn which welfare regime the country is currently working in.
The emergence of the welfare states is a concept of the 20th century, whereby the aim was to protect the people of the industrialized nations from certain issues, risks and disadvantages. This concept, although meaning well, also became the center of debate, questioning what defines a nation or makes it as it is (Marquardt, 2008, pp 3). In other words, how does a particular society following a certain social model become such in the first place?
The welfare states however, are not a singular entity. It is a huge combination of different policies, governments, objective and goals and ideals, which emerge and are practiced in a society in one form or the other (Goodin et al, 1999, pp 3).
This concept, the result of Esping-Andersen in three worlds of welfare capitalism, is based on one of the three concepts of decommodification. Decommodification has been defined as “the extent to which an individual’s welfare is reliant upon the market, particularly in terms of pensions, unemployment benefit and sickness insurance” (Bambra, 2007, pp 1099). Based on this decommodification index, which is a statistical tool, the welfare states become divided into three main types, the liberal, the conservative and the social democratic respectively (Bambra, 2007, pp 1099).
Andersen advocates the decommodification index as a necessity in creation of social policy. He believes that decommodification should be carried out based on “rules governing access and eligibility, income replacement levels, and a range of protection against social risks” (Scruggs, 2003, pp 3).
This concept however has been openly criticized due to many important components in the social systems that have been left out. For example, the neglecting of the female and the family roles in the development of the society is one serious error in the estimation. Other issues with the decommodification index include its “additive nature, weighting within the indexes, the reliance upon averaging and the use of one standard deviation around the mean to classify the countries into regimes” (Bambra, 2007, pp 1100). Perhaps one of the most significant flaws as stated by Andersen himself is that it remains a typology, which being a static concept, cannot be evolved (Scruggs, 2006, pp 2).
Despite these flaws, there remain many facts that still warrant its consideration when thinking advanced sociological debates and theories (Scruggs, 2006, pp 1). Although introduced more than fifteen years ago, the concepts of Andersen remains debated, discussed, studied, revered and even critiqued for its simplicity in application. This was perhaps one of the first successful among the many failed attempts to finally classify different welfare systems. The method of classification in this system was based on the public private mixture of social welfare provision and usage (Scruggs, 2006, pp 1).
This paper will discuss the concept of decommodification and how it can be applied to the contemporary welfare provision. In order to do so, some basic concepts will be discussed, and analyzed. Based on these discussions, two countries will be studied in order to understand the effect of decommodification on countries.
DEFINING THE SOCIAL WORKINGS FROM A NEW PERSPECTIVE
The concept of decommodification and thereby welfare states started simultaneously. The essential premise of this effort was to protect the labor and thereby in some ways exempt them from unpredictable trends and changes in the market. Originated in the Scandinavian countries, it was a form of compromise between the state and the workers, through provision of various social security programs and creation of progressive taxation (Kato, 2003, pp 6).
Welfare states differ from each other due to a variety of factors and how much influence they exert in the routine social fabric of the society. Some of these influential factors include economies, politics, demography, history, culture, and the geographical location (Bambra, 2006, pp 5). Esping-Andersen proposed three principles which were necessary in order to identify a particular society (Bambra, 2006, pp 5). These include decommodification, levels of social stratification and the private public mix respectively. He stated that when these principles are applied three different regime types emerge. These are the liberal, the conservative and the social democratic countries. These concepts were the basis of the many differences that Andersen’s approach had from other social typologies (Bambra, 2006, pp 5).
The first and foremost difference in the Andersen’s approach is looking at the social fabric of the society from a new perspective. He states that the social structure is entirely independent from the welfare state’s size. This means that each society may present with a different set of hierarchy, dualism, status or universalism, as the case may be, irrelevant of its size (Scruggs, 2006, pp 3).
When stratifying from this angle, there becomes a large set of possibilities of welfare states. The conservative social stratification for example, is faced with challenges from modern capitalism (Scruggs, 2006, pp 3). This is a classic society where a conflict of the old versus new tradition is likely to emerge. Examples of such states include Austria, Belgium, France Germany and Italy (Kato, 2003, pp 6). Religion plays an integral part of social life in this setup, which in the recent times, has been frowned upon by more modernist theorists and socialists (Scruggs, 2006, pp 4). Such states show features of etatism and corporatism respectively (Kato, 2003, pp 6).
This identifies the qualities of the liberal social state, where the marriage to the new concepts and ideals is the top priority. This therefore, is opposite to the conservative order, which tends to maintain its traditional decorum (Scruggs, 2006, pp 4). Such a state, due to its dynamic approach is also unstable and irregular, for new changes and trends will mark their impact upon the already present ones, creating a change in the composition of the society as it moves along. Here, the conflicts and the trends can only be understood through a layer by layer composition of the society (Scruggs, 2006, pp 4). Examples of such states are the United States of America, Canada, Japan, and Switzerland. Such states show interest and application in means-tested poor relief expenditures, and strong private pensions and health insurance systems (Kato, 2003, pp 6).
While the above two states are based on the ideological patterns, the social democratic states are based on certain goals at a given section of time. Such states are likely to show more human rights activity, more bills related to worker and people’s rights, and more demands from the state to provide quality service to the people (Scruggs, 2006, pp 4). Here the society is segmented based on their profession. Therefore, one class of working people is likely to remain close together. Such context is also found in the family structures, which is probably why family has a very important impact and role in such social state (Scruggs, 2006, pp 5). Denmark, Finland, Netherlands, Norway and Sweden belong to this slot of countries. Here universalism is the main trend, and these states show highest scores in decommodification (Kato, 2003, pp 6).
APPLYING THE CONCEPTS OF CLASSIFICATION OF SOCIETIES IN LIGHT OF ANDERSEN’S MODEL
Andersen states that as such there is no one society that can measure all top scores in the various stratification evaluative scales presented by him. Each society, he believes will lack in one particular aspect or score lower in it when compared to the other. Regardless of the scoring values, the main test indicator or the decommodification index is the more important focus of discussions (Scruggs, 2006, pp 7)
But Andersen did not only introduce the concept of decommodification. His model also included features of stratification and state-economy relations to critique the different health care systems of the world (Aspalter, 2001, pp 3).
DECOMMODIFICATION: THE CONCEPT
This particular area in the three worlds analysis focused on three individual decommodification indexes of pensions, unemployment and sickness. These schemes were furthermore expanded in order to create a more accurate score. These averages and scores were taken from the findings of an average worker (Bambra, 2006, pp 4). Therefore, for an average worker, the minimum pension benefits, calculated as the percentage replacement ratio of the pretaxation benefit to gross normal worker earnings in a year were considered (Bambra, 2006, pp 77). Alongside, other considerations include the standard pension’s benefits, average duration of contribution in order to get a standard pension, and the individual’s share of pension financing were also considered. Based on a mean, the decommodification index classified the countries as low, medium or high scoring respectively (Bambra, 2006, pp77).
When based on this particular decommodification scale, different countries show different scores on various levels. However, one look at the limitations of the index questions how exact these findings are (Bambra, 2006, pp 6). The theoretical limitations of this index have been known for quite some time, and indeed heavily debated. For example, the range of the countries used for this index, the issue of exclusion of female gender, the analytical focus related to the cash benefits, and regimes that have a more generalized approach in social policy provision (Bambra, 2006, pp 78).
Based on the indexes, another complication arises with the decommodification index. In this scale, averages and means have been used to compile results, and use of standard deviation around it has led to changes in the status of some countries (Bambra, 2006, pp 78). UK has been labeled as a liberal regime country, but at a very low score in borderline with the conservative group, which UK believes is erroneous (Bambra, 2006, pp 78).
STUDYING DECOMMODIFICATION IN THE UK FROM CITIZENSHIP EDUCATION PERSPECTIVE
The UK welfare state system is essentially based on the Beveridge-style of universal social securities programs. Britain has the unique characteristic of providing a variety of social security benefits at a flat-rate, which differentiates it from its other counterparts. Britain however, remains one of the most dynamic areas of social security provision, primarily due to the expansion, innovation and constant changes that it has introduced since the 1970s. Britain has aimed to provide benefits to its entire people, aiming at the bigger picture of identifying some of the most common problems that people face during their lifetime. Therefore, the social security and benefits scheme in Britain range from addressing income maintenance at senior and retirement ages, health and illness, injury and unemployment etc. (Aspalter, 2001, pp 8). This application continues to show its effects, as seen from the example below.
Andersen believed that the solution to the challenges posed by commodification in an industrialized nation lay in removing the problems that started in the first place. Therefore, in order to give the workers satisfaction of their labor, the concept of decommodification emerged. That is, the citizens retained the right to opt out of work, when they consider it necessary, without fear of losing their incomes or jobs (Andrews, 2008, pp 3). This option cannot be applicable fully unless the government takes full interest in providing it and then ensuring it through a series of laws. This is the reason why decommodification supports systems such as pension plans and unemployment benefits. Since decommodification aims to protect the people’s rights and give them the freedom to grow, the role of education also becomes a focus among many (Andrews, 2008, pp 3).
Despite the many discussions and debates about the effect of education on the society in terms of following certain socialists’ perspectives, what is true is that education is a right that can be exercised by the people if and when they choose it (Andrews, 2008, pp 4). Although on paper, such an effort is commendable, in the UK, the educational sector has been suffering from the market trends and variations. This incursion of the market is not a coincidence. It came directly as a result of the different business markets integrating the school curricula with their own emphasis and demands on the type of education that should be delivered (Andrews, 2008, pp 4). Such efforts by the businesses led to the formation of the many Education Action Zones, which provided vocational training to the students, thereby achieving their own corporate profit aims (Andrews, 2008, pp 5).
The implications of such involvements of the businesses in the education sector should not be taken lightly. For this means that educational policies, curricula, and learning will change with the changes in the local and global economies. On the other hand, many believe that only by directly providing education to the citizens will they be able to take decisions that can help improve their outcomes and productivity in their own lives as well as on a national scale.
Since 2002, the citizenship model of education has become a prominent feature of the UK educational policy. Studies in these areas however, show that there remains a need to include more people in this form of learning, and in the decision making processes regarding curricula. While this area may be receiving criticism, it is nevertheless an area that can be used more productively to achieve better outcomes (Andrews, 2008, pp 7 and 8).
DECOMMODIFICATION AND AUSTRALIA
The Australian social system relies more on the means-tested and targeted social assistance, and places less value on the rights of the civilians. Due to the many variations shown by the Australian state, this has been given the name the fourth type of welfare state. Although the means- tested methods are also applied in the United States, there are some distinct features that set the Australian system apart. Australian welfare system is more centered towards the corporations, or in other words labor market centered (Andrews, 2008, pp 4).
These changes commenced upon the entry of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) during the 1980s. The ALP produced many social welfare schemes such as universal health care and earnings related superannuation schemes etc. This system has been in working since this time, and has continued to evolve, based on the right of the citizens to work at higher wages, rather than depending on the state welfare models. It has been able to cater to the needs of the minority groups as well (Andrews, 2008, pp 5). However, with such benefits, the social welfare has become a selective option given to a chosen few by the Australian government. Not every one is entitled to social and state welfare. This again shows the effect of the application of the means-tested and corporatism based approach in social welfare (Andrews, 2008, pp 5).
The concept of decommodification remains an essential area of debate in the various social policy reforms and maintenance agendas. Countries from across the globe continue to develop with their own set of priorities and approaches about welfare benefits that should be provided to their people. As such, as per the decommodification index, there is no country that has been able to achieve all the scores set by the index. However, it is hoped that by improving this particular index or creating a new one based on this one may help find solutions to better provision of benefits to the people of different countries.
Andrews, Rhys,2008. Citizenship Education and the Promise of Decommodification: A Critical Assessment. Paper prepared for presentation at the Political Sciences Association Annual Conference, University of Wales Swansea, 2008.
Aspalter Christian, 2001. Different Worlds of Welfare Capitalism: Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Germany, Italy, Hong Kong and Singapore. Discussion Paper no. 80. Site last accessed on November 29th, 2010 from http://dspace.anu.edu.au/bitstream/1885/41752/2/No80Aspalter.pdf
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