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The Crisis Imperative

The Crisis Imperative: Crisis Rhetoric and Welfare State Reform in Belgium and the Netherlands in the Early 1990s

Sanneke Kuipers
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    The Crisis Imperative
    Book Description:

    The Netherlands and Belgium exemplified the pathology of 'welfare without work' that characterized continental welfare states - until a political crisis in both countries produced a surprising divergence in scope and extent of policy change in the early 1990s. In Belgium, government announced major reforms but its social security arrangements proved remarkably resilient. In the Netherlands, policy makers announced and implemented unprecedented cutbacks and a major overhaul of the disability benefit administration and supervision. This book argues that reform is the product of the deliberate construction of a crisis as an imperative for change. It explains how crisis rhetoric resulted in drastic policy change in the Netherlands and in incremental change in Belgium. This title is available in the OAPEN Library -

    eISBN: 978-90-485-0392-6
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-6)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 7-8)
    Sanneke Kuipers
  4. 1 The Crisis Imperative
    (pp. 9-18)

    In the struggle by European welfare states to overcome recession during the 1980s, two countries in particular lingered behind. The Netherlands and Belgium exemplified the pathology of ‘welfare without work’ that characterized continental welfare states.¹ In their enduring attempts to improve their macro-economic and financial situations, both states were largely unable to tackle their most pressing social policy problems. In Belgium, the total unemployment benefits covered income transfers for approximately one million people – roughly one-tenth of their population. Likewise, in the Netherlands roughly one million of the country’s 16 million people received disability benefits. These respective programs were responsible,...

  5. 2 Crisis and Change
    (pp. 19-36)

    Some social security research suggests that ‘the alignment of political forces conspires just about everywhere to maintain the existing principles of the welfare state.’ Much of the knowledge in the field agrees that ‘the cards are very much stacked in favor of the status quo’ (Esping-Andersen 1996: 265 and 267). Studies on welfare state reform indicate that retrenchment tends to be more rhetoric than reality, as affecting core areas of public policy. The gap between the rhetorical claims and the actual record of Thatcher’s social security reform serves as a good example (Bradshaw 1992; Pierson 1994). Parsons (1995: 577) puts...

  6. 3 Comparing Social Security Crises: Design and Method
    (pp. 37-52)

    Since welfare state reform is generally considered to be a difficult enterprise, drastic policy changes should not be expected. It is therefore a theoretical challenge to compare a case in which such reforms occurred with a case that, under similar conditions, did not produce similar drastic reforms. Given the dearth of cases in which drastic social security reform does occur (Pierson 1994; Esping-Andersen 1999), a large-N study is a dubious task. Moreover, since a welfare state’s institutional structure is generally assumed to have a crucial influence on the possibilities and shape of policy reform, it is necessary to control for...

  7. 4 “Nothing as Permanent as a Temporary Arrangement”: Belgian Policy Making on Unemployment Benefits
    (pp. 53-90)

    ‘I always point to Belgium as a good example when I lecture on Bismarck’s nineteenth-century plans to create occupational social insurance. Not only did the development of social insurance in Belgium closely resemble Bismarck’s plans at the time, in fact the old system is still pretty much intact’ (Klosse 030128). The Belgian system displays features of occupational insurance, characteristic of the industrial age it came from. Today, many of its attributes are unique in Europe, since in most countries, governments chose to restructure their social insurance system in response to a changing social, industrial, and demographic context. For instance, Belgian...

  8. 5 Global Pacts and Crisis Plans
    (pp. 91-118)

    In 1993, the tide began to turn in Belgium. The government and the social partners would introduce a new social pact. The former pact, which dated from 1944 and constituted the Belgian welfare state, proved to be no longer tenable. The new pact would restructure the social security system and prepare it for the twenty-first century.

    The old system was unsustainable because systemic contradictions had accumulated over time. Every open-ended social policy commitment by the government needs an effective gatekeeper to assure that only the truly needy have access to benefits. Gatekeeping can be performed by those who administer the...

  9. 6 The Sticky State and the Dutch Disease
    (pp. 119-146)

    Within a few decades, the Netherlands had transformed itself from one of the smallest European welfare states to one of the largest (Cox 1993: 3-4). The crown on this welfare state consisted of a social security system that guaranteed all citizens a minimum income if they were unable to work. The single largest jewel on this crown was the 1976 law governing disability insurance (Visser and Hemerijck 1997: 126; Andeweg and Irwin 2002). The disability insurance scheme, called wao (Wet op de Arbeidsongeschiktheidsverzekering), ensured income-related benefits to every employee unable to work due to sickness or impairment. The universal character...

  10. 7 Crisis Narratives and Sweeping Reforms
    (pp. 147-178)

    The Dutch government and the social partners may have become famous for their consensus on wage restraints, but they did not manage to agree on drastic changes in the social security system to fight the recession of the 1980s. ‘We did not do politically what we had to do economically because we could not do it socially,’ explained the chairman of the Dutch Employers’ Federation vno (Van Veen, cited in Vermeulen 1992: 61). Van Veen called this ‘the magic circle that captivated us’ (ibid.). This ‘magic circle’ is also a good metaphor for the policy-making process of the disability insurance...

  11. 8 The Politics of Crisis Construction
    (pp. 179-192)

    In the early 1990s, one million of the Netherlands’s 16 million people were receiving disability benefits. Not only did disability insurance allow (and, arguably, generate) inactivity, the Dutch also faced the predicament of further benefit-dependency growth. At the same time, Belgium faced an even larger problem: over one million beneficiaries (out of 10 million Belgians) were dependent on unemployment insurance as their means of survival. Despite very similar circumstances in the two nations, different reforms resulted from the Dutch and Belgian governments’ attempts to fight their respective welfare state problems.

    This study sheds light on the striking differences in the...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 193-206)
  13. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. 207-210)
  14. List of Interview Respondents
    (pp. 211-214)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 215-228)
  16. Index
    (pp. 229-232)