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Welfare service provision in transition. The impact of municipal context and local politicians' preferences, values, and living conditions

Research project The variation across municipalities indicates that the turn from public to private welfare provision is not part of a "natural" development forcing Swedish municipalities in the same direction; it is rather a consequence of political decision making at the local level – where some municipalities have chosen to move along the path of privatization and others have to a larger extent maintained the traditional Swedish model.

This program application sets out to analyze the municipal variation in privatization of social service provision that has gradually increased during the last two decades. Based on previous research, showing that contextual municipality level factors and public opinion preferences do not explain much of the municipal differences in social services privatization, we argue that that a key explanatory factor behind the privatization trend is to be sought among local politicians and their politics.

Head of project

Project overview

Project period:

2013-01-01 2018-12-31

Funding

FORTE
2012-1733

Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Department of Sociology, Faculty of Social Sciences

Project description

The Swedish welfare state has a prominent place in social research. The characteristics of the Swedish welfare state have contributed to theoretical developments of welfare regimes and provide, quite naturally, the closest fit to the encompassing or social democratic welfare regime ideal type. The significance of the Swedish welfare state model is principally manifested in its strong emphasis on social citizenship: encompassing social insurance against risks related to unemployment, old age, and sickness, and furthermore, a large service intensive public sector which offers health care, elderly care, child care, and education. However, it is clear that over the last decades, the Swedish welfare state has gradually departed from this ideal-typical model in several respects. Apart from the substantial growth of private social service provision, eligibility rules have been tightened and the replacement rates lowered in systems of social insurance. In this departure from the social citizenship ideal-model, we argue that the increase of private social services providers is a particularly interesting phenomenon.

Sweden is distinguished by a strong local political independence from central government, and the organization of welfare service production is to a large extent regulated at the local level. This constitutional right of self-governance at the municipal level is manifested in a substantial variation across municipalities in terms of welfare service production. As part of the much debated "Sweden is tearing apart" thesis, critics argue that the increasing heterogeneity observed across municipalities challenges citizenship ideals of the democratic state, that the equal access to social rights of high quality are threatened and instead depend on factors such as class, gender, and geography. The observed variation across municipalities indicates that the turn from public to private welfare provision is not part of a "natural" development forcing Swedish municipalities in the same direction; it is rather a consequence of political decision making at the local level – where some municipalities have chosen to move along the path of privatization and others have to a larger extent maintained the traditional Swedish model.

Over the last two decades significant changes have occurred with regard to the interface between citizens and the welfare state in Sweden. The former situation where citizens exclusively had contact with public welfare service providers has gradually changed and now many welfare contacts take place between citizens and private actors. The municipal variation in this respect is however striking; in some municipalities virtually no one come in contact with private actors while in others private service provision has practically become the norm. This program application sets out to analyze the municipal variation in privatization of social service provision that has gradually increased during the last two decades. Based on previous research, showing that contextual municipality level factors and public opinion preferences do not explain much of the municipal differences in social services privatization, we argue that that a key explanatory factor behind the privatization trend is to be sought among local politicians and their politics.