PLAGERSON, SOPHIE; PATEL, LEILA (2017). 'Welfare regimes in an age of inequality: does the capability approach provide an alternative perspective?' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Cape Town 2017.


Traditional welfare regimes classifications struggle to contain and explain the burgeoning, contradictory and diverse models of social provision that are appearing, developing and maturing in many developing countries.

This paper offers an overview and critique of recent attempts to classify welfare regimes (also referred to as social protection or social security systems) in low and middle income countries, by adapting frameworks that have been applied previously in high income countries. The authors argue that such classifications are restrictive and do not serve the aims of furthering social development aims and objectives. By reference to South Africa, the authors highlight how an understanding of interlocking socio-economic inequalities (gender, income, educational opportunities, employment status and access to health care among others), together with complex systems of social provision distributed between multiple providers (state, private, civil society) in contexts of fluid political, ideological and institutional formations is crucial to developing relevant alternative analyses of current welfare regimes.

The paper interrogates whether the capabilities approach offers an analytically supportive framework that can helpfully guide comparative international analyses, while avoiding the pitfalls of rigid taxonomies. To this end, the fundamental principles of the capabilities approach are applied with the aim of developing an alternative perspective on comparative welfare regime analysis. This is operationalised through an analysis of processes (in terms of their participative, deliberative and democratic dimensions) and of the real experiences and opportunities of the poor (in relation to human development and wellbeing outcomes).  The capabilities-derived welfare regime framework is then applied to the South African context and proposed as a robust and flexible model for comparative welfare regime analysis across complex and unequal settings.

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