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Van Doorn Fellow Bea Cantillon Argues for New Social Contract

The modern welfare state needs to be fundamentally reassessed, says the Belgian sociologist Professor Bea Cantillon. In the Van Doorn Essay “Het armoedevraagstuk en de tragiek van de welvaartstaat: zeven voorstellen voor een nieuw sociaal contract" Cantillon shows why wealthy welfare states fail to combat poverty and points towards possible solutions. The essay was written in the context of Cantillon's Prof. Dr. Jacques van Doorn Chair at Erasmus University Rotterdam and the NIAS Van Doorn Fellowship in 2020.

Against the background of an aging population, climate transition, digitization and a pandemic that will weigh heavily on public finances, the time is ripe for a new social contract. In her essay, Bea Cantillon outlines what this could look like and it includes the following: welfare policy should not only focus on the lower incomes; both the lower end and middle of the the income distribution must be lifted; more targeted investment is needed in human capital and in high-quality jobs for the low- and medium-skilled; a fair intergenerational distribution of the expenses of an aging population is needed; and a broadening of the basis for redistribution.

Reducing Poverty

“The inconvenient truth is that poverty alleviation is neither cheap nor easy. It takes a lot of effort,” says Cantillon. “But improving the living conditions of those at the bottom of society must become the most important task of the welfare state. As an ethical duty but also out of shared interest.”

“For several decades, Western welfare states have failed to reduce financial poverty and this is a systemic problem. The poverty-reducing powers of the post-war welfare state have diminished due to the slow growth of low wages; the unequal distribution of jobs among individuals and families; and through less redistributive social spending, such as childcare, care leave and education, which mainly benefits better-educated families with a double income.” Cantillon sees that fine-tuning existing policy is no longer sufficient.

The Van Doorn essay “ The poverty issue and the tragedy of the welfare state: seven proposals for a new social contract” was presented on 1 December during the lecture ‘Disappointing poverty trends and the tragedy of the active welfare state’, organized as part of the International Lecture Series Department of Public Administration and Sociology at the Erasmus School of Social and Behavioral Sciences in collaboration with prof.dr. Jacques van Doorn Chair & NIAS Van Doorn Fellowship.

About Professor Cantillon

Prof.dr. Bea Cantillon is professor of Social Policy at the University of Antwerp and a member of the Herman Deleeck Center for Social Policy of the same university. She has been a member of the Royal Belgian Academy since 2003 and a corresponding member of the British Academy since 2020. She holds an honorary doctorate from the Université Saint-Louis Bruxelles. In the period 2004-2008 she was vice-rector of the University of Antwerp. She was a Belgian senator (1995-1999) and president of the Cantillon Commission on the social reform of the self-employed (2000-2002). She is a member of the Supreme Employment Council.

About the Van Doorn Chair

The Professor JAA van Doorn rotating chair is a tribute to Professor Jacques van Doorn. In 1963 he was the founder of the sociology program in Rotterdam and the first dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences (FSW). The rotating chair is a partnership with NIAS (Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study), which aims to emphasize the public importance of sociology. The chair was previously awarded to prof.dr.mr. Mark Bovens, prof.dr.mr. Kees Schuyt and prof.dr. Evelyn Ruppert.