Worlds of welfare collide: implementing a European Unemployment Benefit Scheme in the UK

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentation


To date, the primary concerns of European Union law in the field of social security have been the elimination of discrimination and the extent to which EU citizens exercising their right to freedom of movement may access benefits on the same basis as host state nationals. Each member state otherwise controls its own social security system. The post-2007 financial crisis has brought renewed calls for the creation of a European Unemployment Benefit System (EUBS) as a manifestation of solidarity between citizens of different member states and an economic stabiliser in the event of future asymmetric shocks. The EU-wide benefit would operate in tandem with existing national unemployment benefits. This creates challenges of compatibility given the diversity of approaches to social security within the Union, based on at least four distinct philosophies of welfare: liberal, conservative, social democratic and southern European. This paper examines potential legal, operational and political difficulties associated with implementing a EUBS that is at heart a conservative system of social insurance in the UK, whose liberal welfare state has very different priorities. Few legal obstacles exist and although the addition of a new, earnings-related benefit to an already complex mix of social protection would raise significant operational issues, these need not be insurmountable. However, fundamental differences of ideology mean the EUBS as proposed is unlikely to gain political buy-in from the UK. Notably, a contributory income maintenance benefit is a poor fit with a residual, largely means-tested national system whose role is limited to offering protection against severe poverty while maintaining work incentives and minimising costs. The paper provides an overview of proposals for a EUBS, situating it and the UK’s national unemployment benefits within (respectively) Esping-Andersen’s conservative and liberal welfare state models before discussing the difficulties associated with the marriage, or collision, of the two systems.
Period5 Apr 2016
Event titleSocio-Legal Studies Association annual conference 2016
Event typeConference
LocationLancaster, United KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • social security
  • european integration
  • european union
  • brexit
  • worlds of welfare capitalism
  • welfare state
  • social citizenship
  • unemployment benefit
  • social rights
  • social security coordination