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Black Women and the Welfare State

Iyiola Solanke





Black women in a position of social disadvantage and prevent improvements in their condition.
The theoretical aspect of this paper focuses on mainstream comparative welfare state scholarship. The point of departure is Esping-Andersen's The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism
Esping-Andersen argues that, if social rights are

given the legal and practical status of property rights, if they are inviolable, and if they are granted on the basis of citizenship, they will entail a decommodification of the status of individuals vis a vis the market.


Decommodification refers to ‘a standard of civilisation which is conditional only on the discharge of the general duties of citizenship. Their content does not depend upon the economic value of the individual claimant.

His 1990 study measured eighteen European welfare states for the level of decommodification of citizens. These states were scored and grouped into 'regimes', labelled 'liberal', 'social democratic' or 'conservative, depending on the level of social spending, its generosity and spread of welfare.

Welfare outcomes for Black and migrant people, women, the elderly, the poor and the disabled are bypassed in his study. This work was subsequently criticised for the:
dissonance between the issues that inform [his] analysis of the welfare state - especially the primacy, and sometimes exclusivity, he gives to class and production - and the questions that in the 1980's and 1990's have increasingly informed analyses of national welfare states - the social relations of gender and race, and their relation to class, as well as of disability and age, and associated issues of production, social and biological reproduction, paid and unpaid work, national and international divisions of labour, and the political discourses and movements surrounding these.


Of all these groups, Black women are probably the most furthest removed from Esping Andersen's white male constituency.

Using a critical race theory perspective, I place Black women in the centre of my analysis – what do European welfare states look like from this perspective? I argue that Black women, whether citizens or not, do not enjoy decommodification as Esping-Anderson understands it but that paid market opportunities for this constituency and welfare outcomes are circumscribed.

I demonstrate this by looking at the social policy outcomes arising from the commodification of Black women. The quality of social protection afforded by their circumscribed employment opportunities will be evaluated by examination of family policy. It will be seen that where family policy interacts with immigration laws, Black women are often, in spite of citizenship and labour market participation, excluded from full regard as part of the welfare constituency.

The evaluation will make use of his typology, and take a sample from each regime. The countries selected are the UK, the Netherlands and France respectively. These countries have been selected because they all have large communities of black and migrant people, comprising large cohorts of citizens, non-citizens, refugees and asylum seekers. An added advantage of comparing these countries is that they share a common history as post-war colonial powers. Each country will be examined in terms of its immigration pattern, its labour market policies and the combined effect of these on family policy.

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