HWPS No. 4 | Lennartz, C & Ronald, R. (2015) | Housing property and welfare state change: social investment and asset-based welfare as compatible social policy approaches

Structural economic and family-demographic shifts, as well as socio-economic integration processes at the EU level have led to profound transformations of the established social policy models in Europe in the past two decades. Notwithstanding the considerable variations across nations and regime types, two salient developments could be observed here. In the first place, many governments have implemented a strategy of proactive ‘social investment’ [SIS], either alongside or in replacement of their established social security programmes.

By applying a life- course approach to protecting citizens against new social risks, the core of this strategy is to combine public investments in individuals’ human capital with measures that aim to maximize the utilisation of such skills, primarily by easing the reconcilability of work and family life. Simultaneously, there has been a shift towards the increased macroeconomic and political importance of private property assets in defining the economic well being of individuals. Facilitated by the rapid growth of property values and the financialization of housing markets prior to the Global Financial Crisis of 2007/2008, households have been encouraged and expected to take on high levels of mortgage debt with the promise of holding high levels of housing wealth in the future. At first glance, it seems that we are dealing with two conflicting policy developments here; after all, social investment relies on a strong welfare state, while the accumulation of private property wealth as a welfare resource realigns with the notion of policy retrenchment. This contribution aims to illustrate that the fault lines between the two approaches are, however, not that clear-cut. More precisely, using comparative national-level statistics for all OECD member states, it will show empirically and discuss theoretically in which contexts and under which circumstances they may instead be understood as complementing welfare readjustment strategies towards a more radical form of productive welfare capitalism. 

12 March 2015