Welfare regimes – conceptualisation, typology and supplemented approach

The concept of different welfare regimes is discussed for a long time already – Richard Titmuss (Social Policy. An Introduction; Brian Abel-Smith/Kay Titmuss (Eds.); London 1974: 23 ff.) is one of the early exponents. His approach is briefly grasped in the following quote: He ‘made a distinction between “three contrasting models or functions of social policy” – institutionalist, handmaidemn and residual models – which have informed most later typologies of western welfare provision arrangements. The three models sought to relate differences in ideas regarding  the function of the state vis-à-vis social provision. Under the residual model of welfare provision, social services are provided to people who are unable to help themselves. They form a safety net which catches individuals temporarily when the ‘natural’ channels of welfare – the private market and the family – break down. Under the handmaiden model of welfare provision, social services are functional to other institutions, so that social needs are met on the basis of “merit, work performance and productivity” (Titmuss, 1974). Under the institutional-redistributitive model, services are provided on a universal basis and social welfare as an integrated institution in society, “providing universalist services outside the market on the principle of need” (Titmuss, 1974). (Ivar Lødemel/Heather Trickey: A new contract for social assistance; in: “An offer you can’t refuse”. Workfare in international perspective; Eds.: Ivar Lødemel/Heather Trickey ; Bristol : The Policy Press, 2000: 1 ff.; here 26)

Other approaches had been developed for example by Peter Flora. Nevertheless, the recent discussion and development is limited on the review, utilisation and critique of the work of Gøsta Esping-Andersen (The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism; Cambridge: Polity Press; 1990).

As point of departure we can draw on the following definition of a regime:

A regime is understood as a particular constellation of social, political and economic arrangements which tend to nurture a particular welfare system, which in turn supports a particular pattern of stratification, and thus feeds back into its own stability.

(Peter Taylor-Gooby: The Response of Government: Fragile Convergence? In: Vic George/Peter Taylor-Gooby (Eds.) European Welfare Policy. Squarring the Welfare Circle; Houndmills et.al.: Macmillan Press Ltd., 1996: 199 ff.; here: 200)


The central element of the approach employed by Esping-Andersen is the commodification/decommodification-thesis:

De-commodification occurs when a service is rendered as a matter of right and when a person can maintain a livelihood without reliance on the market.

(Esping-Andersen; op.cit.)


Summarising Esping-Andersen’s analysis we can draw the following table with the characteristics of the three different regimes:

Type of welfare Regime



Social Democratic


Work ethic stigma

Rights according to class and status

Equality, universalism of high standards


Means tested assistance

Private insurance backed by state

State = first line of support; high level of benefits


Strengthen market

Strengthen civil society, limit market

Fusion welfare and work, full employment





Class implications

Middle class suspicious of state

Class maintained but stabilised

Middle class wooed from market to state

Country example

USA, Canada, Australia, UK

Austria, France, Germany, Italy