From letting Europe in to policy conditionality. Welfare reform in Spain under Austerity

Mayo 2017
Instituto de Políticas y Bienes Públicos (IPP) CSIC, Working Paper. 2017-01

Sergio González Begega & Eloisa Del Pino

The European influence has served as an inspiration for developing the Spanish Welfare State since the early 1980s through a wide range of legal, cognitive, political, institutional and financial resources and mechanisms. However, convergence with the EU has gone through times of advance and frustration. The Spanish social protection system was in a very early phase of development when other European countries were starting to pursue cost-containment and recalibration strategies by the mid-1990s. The outbreak of the financial crisis in 2008 has frustrated the many political expectations that the Spanish Welfare State can converge with European countries. The efforts at recalibration, coverage of new social risks and tentative steps towards social investment made in the 2000s have been either abandoned or put on hold. Sweeping austerity measures have had detrimental effects over the protective capacity of the Spanish Welfare State. Abrupt structural reform and indiscriminate cuts on social protection do hardly appear as appropriate strategies to reduce inequality gaps and heightened social polarization caused by the economic and financial crisis, let alone to promote the broadening of protection for new social rights. The institutional framework of the Spanish Welfare State has to be reoriented towards more intense protection of new social risks, if its capacity for supporting sustainable and inclusive economic growth is to be strengthened in a postcrisis context. The re-design of the welfare state after the crisis should put an emphasis on reconciliation of work and private life, public care provision for children, the disabled and the elderly, effective minimum income schemes, protection for long-term unemployed and active labour market policies.