An outstanding report by Isabel Ortiz and Matthew Cummins explains what’s been happening to welfare around the world as the pandemic recedes. A disturbingly large number of countries – 143, covering 85% of the world’s population – have been introducing ‘austerity’ measures, aiming to scale back the role of the state. More than 50 countries are planning to cut services back to less than they were before the pandemic.
For many of these countries, the policies which seem most vulnerable have been introduced relatively recently – notably expenditure on health care and cash benefits. A commitment to health care seems to have been maintained in most, while changes to cash benefits or ‘social protection’ have tended to focus on ‘targeting’ (or limiting entitlement) rather than the wholesale abandonment of such policies. It’s worth considering, too, that in the past the legacy of managing major crises – famously, through the impact of war – has been to increase, not to reduce, expectations and the role of the state. On that basis, I don’t believe this retrenchment represents a long-term trend – but it is a major setback.