Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Welfare preferences and democracy in Portugal

On the 6th December Dr Mónica Brito-Vieira (Senior Lecturer, Department of Politics) spoke to the Portuguese Parliament about the effects of the crisis on the welfare preferences of the precariat and the dilemmas it poses to the Portuguese democracy.

The Portuguese Parliament is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Portuguese Constitution with a cycle of conferences about the 1976 Constitution and its legacy. The Portuguese Constitution of 1976 marked the country's transition to democracy after 48 years of dictatorship. It  includes one of the most extensive lists of social rights in the world and presents the architecture of a new universal welfare state intent on securing them. Since 1976, however, much has changed in the world and in the country. In particular, the Portuguese labour market has undergone major transformations, becoming increasingly dualized, with the labour force being now strongly divided between so-called "labour-maket insiders" and "labour-market outsiders". These correspond to "incumbent" employees, whose positions are protected by various employment-preserving devices, and workers lacking similar protection, who are either unemployed or get work only temporarily or have jobs in the "informal sector". The paper presented by Dr Brito-Vieira in Parliament, to both academics and MPs, discusses changes in the attitudes of "insiders" and "outsiders" in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. As the budget squeezed, and various cuts were announced, it was likely that the social policy negotiation came to be perceived as a zero-sum game, with the preferences of insiders and outsiders becoming more distinctive and polarized. What we witness, however, is that this did not happen. In effect outsiders became more supportive of contributory policies, primarily beneficial to insiders. What explains this seemingly paradoxical result? This was the question driving discussion in Parliament.

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