Annabelle Wolff


Placing politics in time can greatly enrich our understanding of complex social dynamics. The question this thesis tries to answer is which mechanism led to the change in attitudes of the German Social Democratic Party and the British Labour Party towards the welfare state during the period from 1990 to 2010 and which effects in consequence these changes had on the existing welfare states. This thesis builds on the welfare state categorization work done by the Danish sociologist Gosta Esping-Andersen ("Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism"). However, the thesis focuses its in- depth analysis on Germany and the United Kingdom as prototypical conservative and liberal states. The heuristic text analysis, as well as the discourse analysis of party leader speeches, party manifestos and programmes, as well as the conducted expert interviews reveal that social, political, technological and economic changes during the given time period radically challenged and changed the norms and values of the welfare providers and with it the given welfare state, as well as the meaning, function and value of work. While many may argue that it was mainly the neo-liberal political and economic style that changed the attitude towards the welfare state, it was in fact just the trigger for a radical change in the interpretation of the basic social democratic values of freedom, justice and solidarity. This change made significant welfare state reforms inevitable and only with further changes can a balance and satisfaction within the welfare state system and within all welfare providing sectors (the state, the market, households and the third sector) be achieved. A new balanced social democratic approach for the 21st century is a ‘symmetrical welfare state’ that stands for mirror-image equality.

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