Comparative social policy tends to underline policy differences (e.g. in the worlds of welfare literature), but common austerity trends in Europe are leading to similar internal reactions. In Italy and in the UK, social policy academics have produced two documents to defend welfare state intervention: “In Defense of Welfare” (by the Social Policy Association) and “The Manifest for the welfare of the XXI century” (by the Italian Journal of Social Policy and ESPAnet-Italy, the equivalent of the SPA community in Italy). Comparing those documents allows to capture the ‘zeitgeist’ of European social policy.
Both the Italian the British ‘epistemic communities’, have chosen to produce something that is downloadable for free on line, bypassing traditional media less receptive of social news. As underlined by Mark Easton, BBC News Home editor during the last ESRC Celebrating the Social Sciences event, the word ‘social’ comes across as ‘fluffy, fuzzy, imprecise and soft’ in traditional media.
The British defence
The two documents are also very different. The British “In Defence of Welfare” has the double scope of assessing the current dynamics and reflecting on the potential impact of the spending review in areas that are central in social policy intervention. It is composed by three main sections: the new politics of welfare, implications for specific groups and policies (e.g. youth, women, housing, higher education) and a more prescriptive part “towards an alternative”.
In Defence of Welfare represents the state of art of British social policy right now and shows how far UK welfare state is moving from the idea of the ‘founding fathers’ of the welfare state, yet repeating his history. The final outcome is a document too long to be easily sold to the large public: a 68 pages academic paper, but also an excellent and succinct (at least in academic standards) attempt to describe the very complex current situation of social Britain.
But how to create a national campaign to communicate those findings to the outside world? Timmins affirms at p.3 that the paper aims to be a technical document but also puts forward a campaign against cuts pointing out that ‘this is how you break a society’. In Defence of Welfare has been delivered to elected MPs, senior civil servants, pressure groups, voluntary organisations and think tank. Interestingly, another research report involving inequalities and social policy promoted by Compass (somehow playing the role of the Fabian society during Titmuss and Townsend times), has received much wider coverage in the UK. This opens up the space for a reflection on the possibility of re-establishing the communication between the SPA and the civil society/media, even before attempting to ‘advice policy-makers’ (the main focus of established social policy academics for a long while).
The Italian defence
The Manifest for a Welfare of the XXI Century in Italy is a surprising short (for lengthy Italian standards) 4-pages paper which aims also to react to the reductions of welfare state spending which took place in Italy in 2010/2011. The argument is essentially the same: welfare cuts risk to damage a social situation which is already extremely weak. Although sponsored by the Italian Journal of Social Policy and ESPAnet Italia this Manifest gained a stronger political support than the British equivalent and was presented by the president of one of the three Italian leading unions (Cgil) last March 2011.
The Manifesto does not offer a systematic review of social policy dynamics in Italy as the SPA Document, but mentions very briefly – and much less empirically- the most salient social issues (social inequalities, generational issue, inclusion of migrants); finally, it presents also a list of the potential functions of the welfare state in Italy within wider European perspective (this last one, the European view, is an element which is unfortunately neglected in the SPA document).
Here the goal is, since the beginning, to involve the civil society: it is possible to ‘subscribe’ on line the Manifesto, showing the support of individuals and civil society organisations – maybe a good suggestion for the British counter-part about how to make in Defense of Welfare heard from the outside.
A European defence?
Given the similarities, the question arise: why not to unify these efforts and create a document at the European level through ESPAnet? European trend of austerity enhances similarities across different epistemic communities which already communicate through Jiscmail, as proved by the recent successful petition for European research funding. An ESPAnet paper should combine the technical depth of the British SPA analysis with the civil-society engagement of the Italian social policy community.