The Politics of Social Policy Expansion in Latin America

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 6:20 PM
Room: F203
Oral Presentation
Ricardo VELAZQUEZ LEYER , University of Bath, Bath, United Kingdom
Juan Pablo FERRERO , University of Bath, United Kingdom
Welfare systems in Latin American countries have been significantly expanded during the twenty-first century.  After decades of a social policy based on social insurance programmes which tended to cover formal sector workers and their families, new social programmes have been introduced and coverage of existing ones has been extended to reach population groups previously excluded throughout the region. This expansion processes have been explained as an outcome of the consolidation of multi-party electoral systems, since parties in government now compete for the sympathy of the electorate by introducing policies that favour the majority, notably social policies. However, even if this perspective clearly demonstrates the effects of democracy on welfare policy, it falls short of explaining the variations in the expansion models adopted in different countries. This paper aims to contribute to the existing literature on Latin American social policy by attempting to explain such differences, combining institutionalist and interpretivist approaches. The chosen case studies are Argentina, Brazil and Mexico, the three largest countries in the region, where different expansion models have been adopted. The paper examines and compares the socio-political arrangements that enabled and triggered the changes in each country. Findings show that the variations can be explained in terms of the effects of democratic transitions and the party systems that emerged from them, the degree of social mobilisation around social policy issues and the capacity of social movements to break with the neoliberal hegemony established in the region during the last two decades of the last century. Social welfare expansion, as a consequence, contributed to temper gross inequalities as well as to displace and redefine the fault lines governing social conflict. The article concludes with an outline of the main features dominating post-liberal/corporativist social policy hegemony in the region today.