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From Welfare to Workfare

Public discourse on the welfare state at the moment is both similar to and different from the discourse that prevailed during the first decades of its existence. Contemporary trends increasingly reinforce the belief that people must ensure their livelihood through their work, and that is why the policies of employment and new employment opportunities have replaced all other social policies, or rather, social policy has succumbed to the market demand for flexible employment (Torfing 1999, 7). The introduction of the work ethic as the basic idea that lies at the foundation of the workfare concept has replaced the previous social rights paradigm in which the community took care of all its members regardless of their ability to sell their labour on the market.

Bauman (2005, 5) writes that the work ethic implies two premises, one of which is that in order to get something which one needs to stay alive and happy, one must do something which is seen by others as valuable and worthy of being paid for; there are no 'free lunches', it is always quid pro quo […]; 'you need to give first, to be given later'. He concludes that the work ethic was a battle for control and subordination, and a power struggle to force people to accept any work: 'Any life, however miserable, is according to the work ethic more superior, if provided by paid labour' (Bauman 2005, 12). To make a difference between labourers and non-workers (as labelled by Mead), Bauman suggests that the life of the latter must be less attractive. This view is becoming one of the basic premises of social policy in many countries. As a consequence, the need-based social benefits are conditioned with work, which is the essence of workfare (Attas and de-Shalit 2004).

The policy of high economic growth and full employment currently guiding the EU excludes from its vocabulary some central classical notions of the welfare state. The vocabulary has changed and today it contains terms such as modern welfare state, which denotes the transition from welfare to workfare. The discourse on social rights has been replaced with discourse on social transfers. In this new discourse, the focus shifts from citizens' rights to taxpayers' money, because money is transferred from their pockets to the pockets of non-workers. Likewise, unemployed people have become non-active or passive, and social benefit recipients have been turned into dependants benefiting from the state's benevolence.13 Bauman (2005, 50) draws attention to the effects of the selective, means-tested services that 'immediately split communities into those who give without getting anything in exchange and those who get without giving'. He then gives the example of a statement by David Blunkett, a former minister in Blair's government, who in a letter to the Guardian 'reduced the welfare state idea to passing cash from one section of the community to another'. Later on, this 'passing of cash' became a 'transfer' and social rights became social transfers,

13 Bourdieu and Wacquant (2003) have written on the changed language on welfare state: Neoliberal Newspeak: Notes on the New Planetary Vulgate (loicwacquant.net/ assets/Papers/NEOLIBERALNEWSPEAK.pdf). implying that money is taken 'from the energetic, successful and thrifty to give to

the idle, the failures and the feckless' (Boyson 1971, in Bauman, 2005, 50).

Historically, the strategies for discrediting poor people can be traced back to 1834 when amendments to the English Poor Law clearly spelled out the dividing line that set apart the deserving and undeserving poor (Slack 1995). The law provided for restitution or reparation in the way that poor people who received financial help had to work in workhouses, those re-educative or re-socializing institutions intended to instil in them work habits and discipline (Thane 1978, 29). In addition to restitution, the re-socializing aspect was also important: Work was considered a vehicle for personal and moral change. Contemporary discourse has been what could be called modernized. Now there is discourse about people who come to collect their social aid in a Mercedes (the European equivalent of American Cadillacs), enjoy idleness, succumb to indulgences and in this way exploit those people who work.

Wacquant's (2003, 65) term for this type of speech is 'penalization of poverty'. Police measures and detentions have indicated changes in the operation of Western states aimed at excluding everything that does not contribute to the new global order. The underscoring of the need for safety made possible the affirmation of the police and the judiciary as new regulators that replaced disappearing social justice. Wacquant anticipates the emergence of a new, liberal-paternalistic social order: liberal for those privileged ones occupying the top of the social ladder and paternalistic for those at its bottom. It will increase social inequalities and marginalization, while those affected by the curtailment of social rights and unemployment will be increasingly subject to control and punishment. The power of this ideology lies in the weakening of the social state and the reinforcement of the punitive state. In other words, as Wacquant (2003, 68) argues, the 'invisible hand of the market and the iron fist of the state' now complement each other.

 
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