The financial and economic crisis and its political perception have forced many EU member states to implement severe austerity policies. In some cases, these reforms have impaired social inclusion and may lead to a dismantling of the welfare state in the medium term. In order to be informed about, to analyse and to evaluate this situation, we need systematic, standardised and comparative data on how and how much individual member states have changed their social policies.
In order to detect social inclusion trends early on, to understand them and to provide information about the related state of affairs, it is essential to have data available on social policy reforms in the EU member states. The Reform Barometer was developed to fill this gap. It is an unparalleled effort to collect, assess and rank data on policy reforms affecting social inclusion. The project evaluates governmental initiatives as well as governments’ political agenda-setting with regard to social issues for each of the 28 EU member states, with the ultimate goal of becoming the go-to reference source for cross-country and longitudinal data on changes in social inclusion policies in these states.
The Reform Barometer is based on an in-depth online expert survey to analyse the multidimensional nature of social inclusion. It collects, analyses and evaluates data on policy reforms, implementation and activities focused on social inclusion in the EU member states. During spring 2016, 3,600 academic experts from across Europe were invited to take part in an online survey. They were asked to assess the need for reforms in their respective country, to report on related governmental initiatives between July 2014 and January 2016, and to assess the (expected) effectiveness of these reforms.
The Reform Barometer project of the Bertelsmann Stiftung is developed and implemented in collaboration with Bernd Marin, from the European Bureau for Policy Consulting and Social Research Vienna, and Christian Keuschnigg, from the Economic Policy Centre (WPZ) at the University of St. Gallen (Switzerland). In collaboration with the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), a pilot study was produced in the initial stage to present the study’s general outline and a first online survey. It is used as the basis for the current and future expert surveys.
While the current status of social inclusion provisions in the EU countries is rather well known, there is little information on how and how much their governments address social challenges through reforms. Many datasets focus on welfare provision (e.g. the Comparative Welfare Entitlements Dataset), on specific policy areas (e.g. European Commission’s LABREF database and the fRDB/IZA database) or on institutional comparisons (e.g. the Ifo’s DICE database). Recent efforts by the European Commission to introduce a ‘social scoreboard’ rely on outcome indicators with known time-lagged effects. Hence, we believe that researchers and policymakers need systematic and standardised data on how and how much individual member states have or may reform their social policies. Providing a close look at the causes and consequences of such reform initiatives can reveal trends in the increase in (or erosion of) social inclusion in Europe.