It has been suggested that similar challenges in the socio-economic environments of European welfare states necessitate convergence of national social security benefit programmes. However, convergence remains an ambiguous matter in social policy research, both with regard to its conceptualisation and to its operationalisation. This article attempts to contribute to this debate by revisiting the concept of convergence and analysing empirically the welfare reforms in three European countries (the UK, the Netherlands, Finland) and two benefit programmes (unemployment and disability insurance benefit programmes) over a period of 26 years (1980–2006). Based on data relating to legal changes in benefit rights and conditions, it is argued that changes in European social security programme have, over time, moved the programmes towards common points. The reforms in the countries that are examined highlight four trends, namely increased work-relatedness in benefit rules, growing activation of benefit recipients, more stringent targeting of the programmes and reduced generosity of benefit entitlements. The data are also used to demonstrate the importance of an analytical approach as a general theoretical device: the article demonstrates how convergence occurred only at the level of broad policy goals, and not at the level of policy instruments.
- social security
- welfare state reform