White Rose University Consortium logo
University of Leeds logo University of Sheffield logo York University logo

How sustainable is the welfare state in the context of an economic, fiscal and environmental crisis?

Bailey, Daniel (2015) How sustainable is the welfare state in the context of an economic, fiscal and environmental crisis? PhD thesis, University of Sheffield.

[img] Text (Doctoral thesis)
Daniel Bailey Doctoral Thesis.docx
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales.

Download (913Kb)


The economic, fiscal and environmental crises evident in contemporary political economy carry a set of interconnected, profound and largely unacknowledged sustainability challenges for the welfare state. This is particularly the case if the environmental crisis constitutes a severe set of limitations upon further economic expansion or demands that post-industrial societies begin to normatively question the primacy of pursuing ad infinitum economic growth. The crisis narratives identified are conceptualised here as a triple crisis afflicting welfare state sustainability, and this more holistic and innovative understanding of the current conjuncture is the starting point of an analysis which interrogates the tensions and inter-dependencies between the fiscal and environmental sustainability of the welfare state. This research agenda prompts a dialogue between two literatures which have largely remained segregated from each other up to this point, despite them both being embraced by progressives. The first is the literature on the fiscal sustainability of the welfare state, which is invariably predicated upon assumptions of future growth either to manage demographic changes or to rationalise counter-cyclical spending during economic downturns. The second is the scholarship on post-growth, which has enjoyed a notable resurgence in recent years due to its environmental and social critique of societies dedicated to pursuing economic growth. Bringing these literatures together has implications for the study of welfare state sustainability. On the one hand, if the fiscal sustainability of the welfare state is predicated upon the public expenditure extracted from an environmentally-unsustainable growth dynamic it is surely necessary to problematise the concept of sustainability conventionally used in the welfare state scholarship. Meanwhile, the prospect of pursuing environmental sustainability through challenging the economic primacy of economic growth would mean a suppression of monetised economic activity, severe fiscal implications for the capitalist state and an uncomfortable degree of welfare state retrenchment. The post-growth literature’s assertion that growth no longer impacts positively on wellbeing, therefore, is challenged by highlighting the potential effects of the absence of growth on the institutions of the welfare state. This constitutes a paradox for welfare state sustainability, and it is only complicated further by the evidence suggesting that welfare states can potentially be conducive to environmental governance more directly through facilitating decarbonisation strategies, maintaining monetarily and ecologically efficient public welfare services, and promote notions of the ‘public good’. This would mean that any post-growth transition may ironically be counter-productive if it does produce a conflagration of public welfare programmes. These are a set of paradoxes for welfare state sustainability which will be difficult to negotiate within the current political settlement. As such, my research speaks to debates concerning how progressives can map out a policy direction in the 21st century which meets both our social sensibilities – which are typically met through those state mechanisms financed by monetised economic activity – and our environmental imperatives – which may require us to question economic growth. This thesis, therefore, contributes to both bodies of scholarship under examination through exploring the intractability of the tensions and inter-dependencies between their discourses and the implications of this for welfare state sustainability and progressive politics more broadly.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Academic Units: The University of Sheffield > Faculty of Social Sciences (Sheffield) > Politics (Sheffield)
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.684579
Depositing User: Dr Daniel Bailey
Date Deposited: 09 May 2016 14:25
Last Modified: 25 Sep 2019 20:01
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/12706

You do not need to contact us to get a copy of this thesis. Please use the 'Download' link(s) above to get a copy.
You can contact us about this thesis. If you need to make a general enquiry, please see the Contact us page.

Actions (repository staff only: login required)