The University of Edinburgh -

Projects

Project I: Family Policy

Sustainable growth, social inclusion and family policy - innovative ways of coping with old and new challenges

1. Rationale and contribution to the programme

Although both Britain and Germany were characterised as belonging to the group of ‘strong male breadwinner’ states (Lewis/Ostner 1995; Daly/Rake 2003), they have taken very different approaches to family policy. In Britain social policy tended to perceive the family as largely a private matter (i.e., left to its own resources to secure sufficient income through the market) whereas German policy sought to actively support the male breadwinner family arrangement. Recent policy has started to ‘unfreeze’ these arrangements (Saraceno 2002; Leitner et al. 2004).

Project I focuses on the (potential as well as actual) contribution of policies related to the family to social inclusion and sustainable growth in the context of social and economic change. Often conceptualised as located at the intersection between ‘welfare’ and ‘employment’, project I contributes to the programme by taking the role of the family as its point of departure, concentrating on the social sustainability of current family policy, and by investigating the role of non-state actors. It addresses the centrality of paid work in current public policy and explores to what extent welfare states and employers allow the family as the locus of necessary reproduction to play a role which is both supportive of family members as private citizens as well as suitable for the specific demands of the two political economies. Similar to society and the economy, the family is buffeted by many changes which are posing a challenge for policy. However, across Europe an increasingly instrumental approach is being taken towards the family. The family is expected to function more and more in the shadow of the marketplace and especially to fill emerging economic needs, e.g., the need for women’s labour, the need for increasing or decreasing family-based child and elder care. Economic theory is driving many aspects of contemporary policy, sometimes explicitly but more often implicitly. There are serious grounds to question the sustainability of the current approach. For a start there is strong evidence to suggest that the current work/life balances are a source of dissatisfaction for people across Europe (OECD 2001). Secondly, there is evidence also that firms have not found an optimum solution for reconciling work and family life (Wegener and Lippert 2004). Thirdly, rather than a diminishing problem social exclusion appears to be on the increase in Europe (Fahey, Whelan and Maître 2004; Atkinson 2004).

2. Aims and research questions

The first focus of project I will be on family policy, the second on the relationship between social exclusion and education and the third on the role of firms as actual and potential providers of social policy.

A. Family policy in focus

This first sub-project is smaller in scale than the other two and is conceived as being more contextual in nature. The focus is on family policy, as it exists and how it might be refashioned to meet the changing circumstances that families, and states, find themselves in today. This part of the project will focus on the UK and Germany but will also include other European countries. It is guided by three sets of questions. The first is about the relationship between economic development and family forms and practices – do different political economies favour different types of families and what form of family life is being created by the current constellation? Taking the family as its point of departure, a second set of questions considers how family life is being altered – and what needs to be in place for families to be sufficiently resourced so as to, on the one hand, function well in changing social and economic conditions on the other contribute to them as an institution. Thirdly, the project focuses on family policy as it exists and as it might be reformed in both countries.

Our goal is ambitious: to identify a model template of family policy from the perspective of sustainability, plurality and inclusivity. The learning that is involved from this is two-fold: the experience of a broad range of countries will be scrutinised so as to identify the ideal-type model; a detailed examination of policies in Germany and the UK to identify what is currently in place in these two countries, what the implications are for family life and what changes are advisable.

B. The gateway of family and education policy

The second vantage point from which family policies will be interrogated will be social exclusion as it is connected with education policy. This constitutes a critical issue for sustainability since high quality education builds the basis for economic development and prosperity as well as for social inclusion. The new balance between the economy and the family – i.e. the substitution of the (old) male breadwinner model through the (new) adult worker model (Lewis 2001) – poses new challenges for the family’s capacity in terms of both child care and education. Parents will spend more time in their jobs and thus will increasingly depend on supportive structures (provided by the public and private sector as well as by civil society) for the upbringing of their children. At the same time, the globalised economy demands flexible qualifications: workers should be able to adapt easily to new responsibilities within a context of lifelong learning. The second sub-project will, in a first step, identify and expound these problems as they concern the interrelationship of family policy and education policy. It will analyse the politics as well as the political rhetoric regarding the new balance between education, economics and family life.

In a second step, this part of the project will document the nature of educational exclusion in both countries and critically scrutinise existing policy responses in this light. Family and education policy encounter severe problems in both Germany and the UK. For example Britain is confronted with the seemingly increasing problem of anti-social behaviour among underprivileged youths which is associated with a polarising education policy that deepens exclusionary social structures rather than fostering equal chances. A major challenge for Germany is the high rate of school drop-out among ethnic-minority youths which indicates a failure of the German education system to overcome general and ethnicity based social stratification. These phenomena of social exclusion have a negative impact on economic and social sustainability. Neither the central government in the UK nor the federal government in Germany have addressed these challenges located at the intersection between family and education policy in a systematic manner. However, often initiated by civil society actors, there is some indication of innovative solutions emerging, often as local pilot projects. As well as a comparative inventory of initiatives aimed at inclusion into the education system, three case studies on ‘best practices’ regarding the new challenges faced by families and the education system will be conducted in both countries. The purpose of the structured comparative case studies is to highlight their innovative character, their structural (country specific) prerequisites and their potential transferability.

C. Enterprises as actors of family policy

In its third part the project focuses on a key set of actors not normally considered as ‘agents’ of family policies, i.e. enterprises. The aim is to identify the extent to which such actors are active providers of family support in both countries and to investigate the nature of their engagement in this field. Theoretically, this part of the project builds on the academic debate about the economic costs and benefits of social policy. With a shift in the political debate to more market-driven social policy approaches during the past decade, politicians in many European countries, and especially in the UK and Germany, have argued that companies should take on greater responsibilities in the provision of social policy for their employees, and more specifically to engage in family-friendly policies which improve the work-life balance. It is argued that such an approach would not only benefit parents, but can also boost the productivity ‘on the assumption that happy parents make happy workers’ (Martin 1999: 156; BMFSFJ 2003). At the same time the overall employment rate (especially of mothers) would increase. As there is a severe lack of systematic empirical comparisons undertaken in this field, we will explore the overall scope of occupational family policies in the two economies, identify the companies that are involved and ask about their reasons for doing so. The nature of the family-friendly provisions and their beneficiaries will be identified.

This section of project I is closely linked with project II in two ways. First, both projects analyse the role of companies as social policy providers, thereby filling a gap in the comparative welfare state and the ‘varieties of capitalism’ literature. Secondly, a comparison of the two occupational social policy realms will allow us to ascertain whether a ‘dual transformation’ (Bleses/Seeleib-Kaiser 2004) in occupational social policies can be identified similar to the one in the public policy domain, i.e. a retrenchment of traditional social policies (such as pensions provision) and an expansion of family policies.

3. Methodology and data sources

To answer the research questions identified above requires a diversified methodology. Policy analysis will be a primary method of enquiry across all three sections and will be the sole method used for the first part. Documentary analysis, expert interviews with key policy makers in different national settings and structured comparative case studies will also be carried out in the second and third part. In addition, in the third sub-project a survey among FTSE and DAX companies will be conducted (based on the assumption that mainly large companies provide occupational welfare benefits). This survey analysis will be complemented by secondary data analysis of other (national) samples as they become available (iw-trends 4/2003; Stevens et al. 2004). The survey will be conducted in close co-operation with project II. Based on the results of the quantitative data analysis, four companies (two providing family benefits and two providing no benefits) will be selected for each of our two countries for in-depth qualitative analyses (method of structured comparative case studies). The aim will be to illuminate the practices of companies in the context of country specific conditions as well as the interplay between public and occupational policies. This qualitative analysis will rely on both company documents and semi-structured interviews with representatives of management and employees. Finally, the findings of these primary analyses will be discussed within the wider theoretical framework of the role of occupational welfare, more specifically, in how far it deepens ‘the social division of welfare’ or in the absence of public policies improves the overall provision.
 
The design of the project is such that while a comparison of Germany and the UK will be central, the comparison is set in the broader context of the EU. In other words, the comparative canvas is much larger than the Anglo-German scenario.