20.05.2024 16:00

New publication by Benedikt Bender in the Journal of Social Policy Research

ZSR 2024; 70(2):145-172

Benedikt Bender und Laura Malsch

Political Conflict within Social Policy between 2017–2021 in Germany. A Content Analysis of Parliamentary Speeches and Press Releases.

From Journal of Social Policy Research

The study extends research on welfare state reform amongst political parties, unions and employer associations. We show that social compensation measures reflect traditional political and class-based divides (right vs. left and union vs. employer). By contrast, social investments receive cross-class support with the exception of the right-wing populist party (AfD), which opposes e. g., equal opportunities for women at work. The results are based on a systematic content analysis of the minutes of 21 parliamentary plenary sessions and 323 press releases (2017–2021). Two implications emerge from the study. Firstly, the importance of the theoretical distinction between social compensation and social investments within social policy. Secondly, we demonstrate evidence of broad support for social investment policies despite different motivations amongst the actors. This consensus helps to explain the recent expansion of social investments in Germany and leads us to expect that further social investment reforms are likely in the near future.
Short summary
Bender, Benedikt and Malsch, Laura (2024): Politische Konflikte in der Sozialpolitik zwischen 2017–2021 in Deutschland: Eine Inhaltsanalyse von Plenardokumenten und Pressemitteilungen. Zeitschrift für Sozialreform, 70, 2, 145-172. https://doi.org/10.1515/zsr-2023-0019
Introduction The conflict and different attitudes of the German government coalition can be followed almost daily in the media. However, divergent attitudes amongst liberal, social democratic and green parties are not new. They were the basis for welfare state expansion (in particular, de-commodification measures) after WWII against the backdrop of ongoing class conflict. Welfare state expansion has rapidly changed its focus towards social investments, and we argue in this article that the change can be explained by cross class consensus based on different motivational perspectives in the context of social investment reforms.
Social Policy Reforms
We classified social compensation reforms in relation to de-commodification. There are four levels: (1) unemployment benefits, (2) minimum child-care allowance (against poverty) (3) minimum pension scheme (against poverty in old age) (4) other social benefits. Here we expect unreconcilable class conflict between different actors. We classified social investment reforms in relation to the creation, mobilization, and preservation of human capital: (1) child care service (2) incentives for female employment, (3) gender equality at work, (4) active labor market policies. Here we expect cross-class alliances since these reforms are compatible with the different motivational perspectives amongst actors.
Case Selection, Method and Data

We selected Germany because it is a late comer in the expansion of social investments. However, the fast shift towards more social investment in the last 15 years is unique within Europe. We argue that this is rooted in cross-class consensus for social investment reforms despite motivational differences. We use systematic content analysis of the minutes of 21 parliamentary plenary sessions and 323 press releases (2017-2021). All political parties were represented in the German Bundestag, the national trade union organization (DGB) as well as the national employer association (BDA).

As expected, we show classic conflict between left and right, and between labour and capital regarding social compensation. Left-wing actors (Linke, SPD, Grüne) support the expansion of social compensations, whilst conservative (CDU/CSU), liberal (FDP) and right-wing populist (AfD) parties oppose them. For social compensation there is no cross-class consensus because different motivations lead to conflicting positions on social policy.
Politische Konflikte Grafik 1
By contrast, there is indeed clear cross-class consensus for social investments among left wing, conservative and liberal parties with just one exception: The right wing populist party (AfD) is the only part to oppose gender equality opportunities for women at work.
Politische Konflikte Grafik 2
For example: Cross-class consensus exists amongst actors regarding childcare services. Left-wing actors support child care services in order to create equal opportunities for women in the labour market. For liberals and conservatives, the main motivation to address the shortage of skilled workers in the workforce by relieving mothers of childcare responsibilities. This shows that consensus is possible when different motivations still lead to overlapping interests.
Conclusion and Outlook
To understand social policy positions, we need to distinguish between social compensation and investment, since different patterns of conflict and overlapping interests are possible. There is more potential for overlapping interests amongst actors with regard to social investment measures. This leads us to expect an expansion of such reforms in the near future. Due to new fiscal constraints in an increasingly crisis-ridden world, government need to set clear priorities for social policy reform and ensure that all actors are motivated to support them.