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Talk of retirement: comparing pension reform discourse in Sweden, Germany and the United Kingdom

Kantelberg, J.J.P. (2012) Talk of retirement: comparing pension reform discourse in Sweden, Germany and the United Kingdom.

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Abstract:This research describes and compares the discourses on pension reform in Sweden, the United Kingdom and Germany between January 2007 and December 2011. These three countries have been selected because of their different institutional structures and different welfare state typologies as defined by Esping-Andersen (1990). Sweden represents the social-democratic welfare system, the United Kingdom the liberal welfare system and Germany a conservative welfare system. These countries also use different pension structures (Bismarckian and Beveridgian) and the power of their labour unions varies to a large extent. This research provides an extensive overview of theory regarding the characteristics of contemporary pension reform discourse. The contemporary pension reform can be split in three categories: pressures on the pension system, solutions coined by participants of the discourse and conflicts that arise because of unequal results from pension reform or a lack thereof. Since these pressures will manifest themselves differently in different welfare state typologies and pension structures, attention is paid to regime-specific and system-specific implications. Using the theory at hand, an overview of the most likely solutions that will be coined in certain welfare state typologies is set up as well as what conflicts to expect most in what types of welfare states and pension regimes. Finally, the power of labour unions on the pension reform process is theorized and theories about the effect of labour union structures on pension discourse are discussed. To research the discourse on pension and pension reform, both a newspaper analysis and a labour union press release analysis is performed for all three countries. These showed that the discourses on pension reform differ to a large extent between the three countries of analysis and that the differences can often be explained as a result of the different welfare state typologies and pension structures in the countries. Pension discourse in the United Kingdom is centered around the question what social pressures should be left to the market. The pension system of the United Kingdom creates unequal results which cause a lot of intra-generational conflict and it is perceived by many actors that the state should perhaps intervene more to provide a better safety net for the worst off. The financial crisis is perceived as a major threat to the pension system. Labour unions play only a marginal role in the discourse on pension reform in the UK. In Germany, the discourse focuses on the discussion surrounding the possible raise in retirement age. Such a raise is perceived to be hard on unemployed people close to retirement. Inter-generational conflict is most common in Germany, which is connected to the German pension system which is not valiant versus demographic pressures and will have to adapt to ageing by raising the retirement age and/or contributions. Next to this, people seem to worry about poverty amongst the elderly. Labour unions play a central role in the pension discourse of Germany and are very much opposed to most reform proposals, especially against proposals involving higher retirement ages. In Sweden people seem to be confident that the pension system is able to survive the test of time. There is some discussion about tax differences between pensioners and working people in favour of the latter and about the effect of “brakes” on the pension system on the income of poor pensioners; especially from the pensioner unions. Proposed changes to the system are almost never far-reaching and mainly small improvements to make the system more fair or efficient. The labour unions of Sweden are concerned with the sustainability, fairness and transparency of the pension system. They propose improvements at several occasions, but never radical reforms.
Item Type:Essay (Master)
Faculty:BMS: Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences
Subject:88 social and public administration
Programme:Public Administration MSc (60020)
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