Coronavirus and future of welfare state

A society, admitting the existence of high inequality, is likely to pay a higher price for a way out of the crisis caused by the pandemic, Valdai club expert Oksana Sinyavskaya writes. This includes a major number of deaths, risks of the impoverishment of part of the population, and, most likely, a great depth of the economic crisis. Therefore, the solution to the problem of excessive inequality is not only the prerogative of social policy.

After several decades of talk about the imminent collapse of social status and the triumph of the market, we have watched for the past months, it could be called a renaissance of state paternalism. A growing number of countries are introducing measures to support enterprises and the population, reducing taxes, unpacking stabilization and reserve funds for it and increasing public debt, that is, doing everything that seemed impossible before an emergency.

The very fact that states are ready to leave their current economic interests behind in order to save human lives from a new disease indicates that the protection of health as an element of social rights has become an integral part of the social agreement for the past century. Moreover, Asian countries’ response to coronavirus showed that not only the Western world has faced it.

Does it mean that when the pandemic ends, talk about the uselessness of welfare states will stop? I’m sure not. When the threat of mass deaths of citizens retreats, and economic difficulties, on the contrary, escalate, for the sake of saving state budgets and the economy, the governments of many countries will probably talk about the need to cut social spending again, tightening access to social programs, reducing benefits and increasing their targeting.

The radicalism of this reversal will largely depend on the pre-crisis level of development of the country and how efficiently it managed to cope with coronavirus: the fewer resources and the longer and harder the epidemic — more deaths, more job losses and incomes due to long quarantine, — the higher the likelihood that the country’s leadership will offer to “tighten their belts” and try to get out of the economic crisis at the expense of the population.

The radicalism of this reversal will mainly depend on the pre-crisis level of development of the country and how efficiently it managed to cope with coronavirus: the fewer resources and the longer and harder the epidemic are, the more deaths, more job losses and incomes due to long quarantine are and the higher probability that the country’s leadership will offer to “tighten their belts” and try to get out of the economic crisis at the expense of the population.

The coronavirus pandemic will not change the long-term trend towards a reduction in government obligations in the field of social support. Thus, we can see several important lessons of the current crisis that can set the vectors of the transformation of social states in the 21st century.


Vesna News — official website

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