About 15 years ago, a book was published in Social Policy, which tried to categorise welfare states in Europe according to the degree to which they promote a social class hierarchy and the degree to which they support individuals’ decommodification from the labour market due to reasons such as advanced age, illness or maternity.
Based on this book, three ‘worlds of welfare capitalism’ were reflected: the socio-democratic world with Sweden as the primary model, the conservative world with Germany and the residual world with the United Kingdom. Greece and indeed the whole of Southern Europe did not have a place in this categorisation, which contributed to the publication of journal articles trying to convince that there was indeed a unique model in Southern Europe, characterised by a historically embedded clientelist state, a welfare state with left-overs for the citizen and the usual strong family which cares for and protects the citizen where the state is unable to.
It is absolutely logical that the Greek family protects the individual as best as it can during times of need, especially when they fall through the net of a weak and incomplete welfare state
In spite of all the weaknesses of this particular effort of categorisation, and there were a few, a number of useful and constructive debates on this topic have began in academic journals. For students of social policy with an interest in Southern Europe or the development of the welfare state, the question arose: what came first, the strong family or the weak welfare state? And which direction does the causality arrow work, that is do we have a weak welfare state because we have strong family networks, or is the strong family a result of a weak welfare state? The answer to this question is important in understanding both the current situation of the Greek welfare state and its future direction.
It is absolutely logical that the Greek family protects the individual as best as it can during times of need, especially when they fall through the net of a weak and incomplete welfare state, and this is happening increasingly in the last three years or so. We have all experienced in one way or another the consequences of the financial crisis, regardless of our views on how it was created. Through this process, the family is strengthened and slowly becomes the main or only pillar of support of an older man or an unemployed woman. It is therefore that the Greek family is strengthened when the welfare state is weak. On the other hand, how certain can we be in arguing that the same family prevents the development of the welfare state by reducing the need for cash or service support measures for individuals? This argument is less convincing, as it annuls the state’s obligation to care for the citizen during times of need.
Perhaps it is less important whether the weak welfare state contributed to a strong family in Greece or vice versa. Perhaps what is more important is the coverage of the needs of the individual, whether this is through their role as a citizen (through the welfare state) or through their role as a family member. In reality, in all countries of the world, it is a combination of the two which in the end cares for the individual, and our real concern should be directed to those who have neither a right to the welfare state protection, nor a family.