Inequality, Welfare and Social Justice
How have inequalities of class and fortune, gender, race, religion, age or region shifted in Europe since the turn of the twentieth century? How have those shifts reshaped social, political and cultural spheres since the twentieth century? This cross-disciplinary group takes as its point of departure a sobering fact: after a long period during which economic inequalities progressively – if unevenly – narrowed, and poverty levels fell, most European countries have experienced rising economic inequality since 1980. This has had negative effects on social cohesion, equal opportunity and democratic stability.
Our group uses historical and contemporary analysis to explore today’s crisis of inequality, and to unpack the evolving relationships among inequality, social welfare, democracy and social justice. In late nineteenth and early twentieth century Europe the question of who would provide social services to whom and on what terms was a subject of sharp and complex political and ideological contest. The links that were consciously forged between social welfare and democracy in the mid-twentieth century were the outcome of political struggles and choices made in the shadow of World War II. However, as the rise of right-wing and populist welfarism in Hungary, France, Italy, Poland and elsewhere demonstrates, the connections between welfare and politics can be, and are being re-thought, with dramatic consequences for the rights of individuals.
The Inequality Cluster has swung into action with a reading group around Thomas Piketty’s Capitalism and Ideology, in preparation for a lecture and discussion with Professor Piketty next year. The reading group convened three times, on
Monthly seminar to be launched, with sessions on: the working poor; gender inequalities in wages and pensions and female poverty rates overall; child poverty across Europe; and what kinds of welfare policies have been most effective in combatting these problems.