New players enter the game: effects of marketization of social policies.

VerfasserBlank, Florian

1 Introduction

The German landscape of social politics is changing. For a long time it was characterized by a stable set of actors and has often been characterized as basically (neo-) corporatist, with the trade unions and employers' associations on the one hand, the big charities on the other being closely tied to governmental institutions and party politics. These actors were together not only embedded in the policy making process, but played active roles in the administration of the social insurance system and in the production and distribution of welfare goods and services. This stable and static setting has become subject to several strains and pressures since the 1980s, due to political, social, and economic processes. As a consequence, we are witnessing an increasing pluralization in this policy field, following from fragmentation of established actors as well as the emergence of new ones, such as commercial providers of welfare goods and services, and lobby groups for those citizens not adequately represented by the established organizations.

This article is to shed some light on a change of the landscape of social politics, which hitherto has gone unnoticed in current debate: the representation of consumer interests by consumer political actors in social politics. The growing trend towards the introduction and strengthening of market mechanisms in the welfare sector has been accompanied on the one hand by social policies that resemble consumer policy insofar, as they intervene into market relations in favour of consumers. (2) On the other hand the changing role of citizens and thus their changing interests may lead to activities of both governmental and non-governmental actors dedicated to consumer policy in the field of social policy. It is the latter assumption that will be the focus of this article.

In the following, the main task will consist of providing evidence for the awareness of both governmental and non-governmental consumer political actors for consumer interests in the context of marketization of social policy. This way the assumption that marketization leads to the emergence of new interests and finally to a pluralization of the established set of socio-political actors shall receive additional empirical foundation. With respect to the consumer political actors' involvement in social policy the article seeks to map an area for further research, it is basically of explorative nature. Evidence will be drawn from sources such as official documents, speeches in parliament, press releases, and documentations of the policy making process regarding some major policy reforms in the last decades. The focus will lie on--though not exclusively--the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV; before 2005: Federal Ministry of Consumer Protection, Food and Agriculture, BMVEL) and the consumer political umbrella organization, vzbv (Verbraucherzentrale Bundesverband). By mapping a partly known field from a new perspective, this article does not aim at assessing the actual influence of the new actors in the policy making process, especially where consumer political actors supplement an established set of actors. This will remain a task of future research.

The article will be structured as follows: First, the trend towards marketization in the field of social policy will be discussed. After this, evidence for an awareness of the BMELV and the vzbv for consumer related issues in the field of social policy will be presented. The final chapter contains some general considerations regarding consumer interests and their representation in social politics.

2 Marketization and its consequences for the game of social politics

For decades the German field of social policy was marked by a relatively stable set of actors. It remains controversial, whether this set of actors and its relations could adequately be described as some form of "sectoral corporatism" or "neo-corporatism" (cf. Heinze/Olk 1981; Windhoff-Heritier 1989; Winter 1991; Backhaus-Maul/Olk 1994; Trampusch 2006a, b; Schmid/Mansour 2007). It is clear, however, that non-governmental actors in the field of social policy acted and continue to act not as mere interest groups for its members or another clientele, but are embedded in the policy making process on both input and output sides. They include the traditional big charities (the "Spitzenverbande der Freien Wohlfahrtspflege" Caritasverband, Diakonisches Werk, Paritatischer Wohlfahrtsverband, Arbeiterwohlfahrt, Deutsches Rotes Kreuz, and Zentralwohlfahrtsstelle der Juden in Deutschland having a semi-public status) as well as trade unions and employers' associations. These associations play a major role in the production of welfare services (charities) and administration of social security systems (trade unions and employers' association). This picture of embedded interest groups is today still partly valid since the charities continue to provide a major share of social services (3) while trade unions and employers' associations still play a role in the administration of social insurances.

Neo-corporatist or not, already in the 1990s there were signs of a growing pluralization regarding the set of actors. In a 1994 article on the charities, Backhaus-Maul and Olk pointed to a growing importance of both non-established associations such as self-help groups and corporate providers of social services (1994, 115, 130). A decade later, Trampusch (2006a, b) discusses the changing role and importance of trade unions and employers' associations. According to her, the most important trends that put an end to the corporatist world of welfare include changes in the Selbstverwaltung (self-management--the management of social insurances by the social partners, trade unions and employers' associations); a declining alignment of politicians to the social partners; and finally the pluralization of the set of actors. This pluralization was an effect of the fragmentation regarding both trade unions and employers' associations, the emergence of new actors as a consequence of the creation of welfare markets, and a restructuring of benefits that created new groups of welfare state clients. Among the new actors Trampusch finds corporate providers of services and their organizations, welfare users' organizations such as pensioners', patients' and unemployed persons' organizations and the charities--the latter somewhat surprisingly given the importance often ascribed to them by other authors, but maybe due to Trampusch's more traditional understanding of corporatism.

The creation of welfare markets is a development that is of special interest here. (4) It implies a new definition of the role of users of welfare goods and services; they are turning from citizens relying on the state to consumers engaging in market transactions. In Germany, the creation and extension of welfare markets can be traced back to the early 1990s, when first steps to more competition among public health insurance companies were made (cf. Nullmeier 2002, 271). The 1995 introduction of the long-term care insurance went together with putting commercial suppliers of care services on a par with not-for-profit organizations such as the charities for the first time, thus creating a market for long-term care services. Other examples include the introduction of the "Riester-Rente", a voluntary funded pension scheme, in 2001, and continuing reforms of the system of health insurances. To clarify, there are huge differences between markets for specific products: E.g. governmentally fostered individual market participation in case of the "Riester-Rente" depends on the consumers' decision to invest their own money in the market, and benefits from such a private insurance are seen as a supplement to the statutory pension insurance. In contrast, the statutory long-term care insurance guarantees earmarked benefits to be used in the care service markets for all insured--but these benefits are only intended to cover part of the actual costs of care work. Different as these reforms may be, they share a new understanding of welfare provision. This implies altered conditions of access to welfare goods and services provided by competing suppliers and led on part of the consumers to both new opportunities to benefit from the new setting and new risks as a consequence of the material and cognitive resources needed to successfully act in markets. But not only are citizens...

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