The difficulties encountered by president Barack Obama in his attempts to reform the U.S. health system along more mutualist lines remind us – if such a reminder were needed – how special the French welfare system is and what a boon it is to the nation’s citizens (as are the welfare systems of many other European states). On the other hand, the French-style welfare state, which worked very well in its first 30 years in a context of economic expansion, has been in difficulties now for more than two decades. Among other factors, the succession of economic crises and the ageing of the population have generated a chronic public deficit, fuelled by the increasing cost of welfare provision, while policies in this area – particularly employment policies – haven’t really proved effective. All of which is exacerbated by the apparent impossibility of implementing any coherent wide-ranging reform. Might the French welfare state be doomed to collapse?
In their recent book on the subject, Jacques Delors and Michel Dollé don’t take this line: “Employment and income trends, levels of social inequality, and the risks hanging over both jobs and social welfare provision make it more urgent and necessary than ever that we propose a coherent set of policies for the transformation of the welfare state, in the hope of contributing to a reconstruction that meets the needs of our times. The economic and social crisis […] is going to make demands upon – and profoundly challenge – the French system of employment and welfare.” Delors and Dollé propose an alternative course of action of “investing in social welfare”, which, as Julien Damon shows here, has a very precise meaning in the social policy field.
Analysing their work, Investir dans le social [Investing in Social Welfare] (Paris: Odile Jacob, 2009), Julien Damon explains the roots of this new approach and shows what it might consist in in fields such as education, early-years support or employment and why it represents an opportunity for beneficial reform of the French welfare system, without disowning the public service ethos on which it has always been based.