The Welfare State and its system of social protection are undergoing massive transformation. In France, as elsewhere, the nature and impact of social risks have changed: old age is no longer a risk due to lengthened life expectancy; health, family and employment policies have evolved. In their place new risks related to job insecurity and exclusion are becoming increasingly important. The challenges confronting the Welfare State in France and other countries must be viewed as an opportunity to reconsider the treatment of risk and the aim and hierarchy of benefits, as well as to re-examine the respective responsibilities of the stakeholders concerned. This study by Philippe Brongniart, Anna Stellinger, and Arnaud Mercier calls for the creation of a new architecture centred around a State that promotes accountability.In France, the Welfare State plays an important role in the protection of individuals and in social cohesion. Its influence has grown, while the role of external institutions such as businesses, trade unions and funds is constantly diminishing in relative terms. Although the State’s influence has been waning both in terms of manpower and budget, it has still managed to increase its influence in the social sector.
While the social State appears to have succeeded, this appearance conceals many problems: while the aims of social protection have multiplied, both its equity and its efficiency are under question, its regulation uncertain, and its cost is exploding.
The authors take stock of the changes, risks and abuses challenging not only France’s social security system, but social protection as a whole. As the cost of benefits continue to rise faster than the GNP, they relegate other priorities, causing us to overlook opportunities to encourage competition between social security schemes and a number of changes in the risks themselves. For instance, health and retirement no longer have the same meaning as they did fifty years ago, at the very moment when other risks are emerging, such as job insecurity, employability, vocational integration, or dependency.
As has happened in other European countries, it is now urgent to reprioritize the State’s mission in the social sector. An Enabling State, or “Strategic State,” is gradually taking the place of the Welfare State. The State is abandoning its role as a direct administrator to set the priorities, game rules and financial framework for social protection policies.
The Strategic State’s goal is no longer to ensure income, but to increase opportunities for social participation in order to increase the society’s working population. It therefore assumes the task of managing several projects: redefining risks and responsibilities associated with healthcare, retirement, employment and social assistance, redirecting benefits to the most pressing needs, making progress toward European harmonization by taking into account current changes — the employment of seniors, and the decentralization of healthcare and of health risk management — the priority being given to a return-to-employment assistance scheme based only on monetary compensation.
This transition to an active social State demands a certain amount of political courage, not to eliminate the Welfare State, but to build an efficient and pragmatic social State in its place.