Public put older people's needs before children

Public opinion prioritises benefits for older people at the expense of families and children, according to a think-tank paper examining attitudes in the United Kingdom, Denmark and France. And it warns that growing inequalities in electoral participation risk further entrenching this position.

Key points

  • The financial crisis seems to have reinforced a public consensus in favour of the 'traditional' welfare state, with higher pension payments and healthcare spending the top priorities. This has happened at precisely the moment when Europe's welfare states ought to be changing to cope with major structural challenges.
  • There is a significant added danger that growing inequalities in electoral participation – older people are more likely to vote than younger ones – may further entrench the welfare status quo and heighten distributional conflict between the generations.
  • Popular support for the welfare state is anchored in the contributory principle. But in the light of the financial crisis, many voters have accepted the argument for greater targeting of benefits, which impairs equity in the long term.
  • Centre-left parties in Europe therefore need to develop new arguments for, and new ways of talking about, fairness if they are to succeed in winning popular support for higher spending on children and families, the authors conclude.

Source: Patrick Diamond and Guy Lodge, European Welfare States after the Crisis: Changing Public Attitudes, Policy Network