Fiscal welfare in Europe: Why should we care and what do we know so far?

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Series Details Volume 28, Number 5, Pages 549-560
Publication Date December 2018
ISSN 0958-9287 (print) | 1461-7269 (online)
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This article offers a reflection on how integrating fiscal welfare into welfare state research can shed light on some subtle, yet important, transformations of welfare states and social citizenship in Europe. We begin by clarifying the concepts of fiscal welfare and social tax expenditures (STEs), by reviewing and critically assessing the various related concepts found in the literature. We also map out the empirical knowledge currently available, highlighting the limitations in the available data.

Then, drawing on both existing knowledge (developed especially in the context of the US welfare state) and the emerging literature on fiscal welfare in Europe, we identify a number of trends and set out some hypotheses as to why tax expenditures have become a privileged instrument in the field of social policy: not only do STEs appear as a useful instrument to build consensus across party lines in a context of budgetary austerity and strong control of public expenditures, they also enable the discreet privatization of social insurance schemes. Fiscal welfare also allows for a new mode of governing social policy through incentives, which entails a different mode of redistribution than traditional social policy instruments. Finally, we identify the remaining empirical and theoretical gaps to guide future research on the subject.

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