From subsidiarity to "free choice": child- and elderly-care policy reforms in France, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands

Abstract : This article analyses the patterns of reform in care policies in Bismarckian welfare systems since the early 1980s. Based on a comparison of France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, the article shows that these reforms share similar logics and trajectories, which can be explained by the shared conservative and corporatist traits of Bismarckian labour markets and welfare state institutions and their impact on labour market adjustment possibilities and preferences. Indeed, we argue that care policy reforms have been very closely linked to specific employment strategies, and the politics of welfare without work and subsequent attempts to shift away from such a labour-shedding strategy go a long way in explaining both the nature and the timing of child- and elder-care policy reforms in Bismarckian welfare systems. The article also shows how a focus on promoting 'free choice' in all four countries has justified the introduction of measures that have simultaneously reinforced social stratification in terms of access to the labour market - meaning that some women have much more 'free choice' than others - and weakened certain labour market rigidities. To conclude, we argue that care policy reforms have provided a backdoor for the introduction of labour-cheapening measures and for increasing employment flexibility in otherwise very rigid labour markets.
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Nathalie Morel. From subsidiarity to "free choice": child- and elderly-care policy reforms in France, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. Social Policy and Administration, Wiley, 2007, 41 (6), pp.618-637. ⟨hal-01021363⟩

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