Social services


Social policy limitations

15 December 1998

Bob Deacon, Director of the Globalization and Social Policy Programme (based in Sheffield and Helsinki) criticised the World Bank’s stand on social policy at a recent Overseas Development Institute discussion meeting in London. He said that whilst the Bank had improved its position on public expenditure on health and education, and was arguing these points with borrower governments, its emphasis on beneficiary targeting/safety nets and individual responsibility for risks detracts from the greater goals of equal, universal provision. The targeting approach, which argues that the middle classes should not be allowed to absorb subsidies or welfare payments, misses the political economy questions of how you fund and garner support for state transfers. Individualisation rather than pooling of risks, eg in pension fund payments, reflects an Anglo-Saxon model which is not supported in much of Europe. Given the World Bank’s importance in the global discourse on social policy, he urged those who care about equality to take up these questions with the Bank, and to seek alliances with more progressive UN agencies.

Transcripts of this and previous meetings in the global governance series can be found on the ODI web-site: