Social Policy Without Growth: Moving Towards Sustainable Welfare States

Growth-dependent welfare states contribute to climate emergency. The ecological economics, degrowth, and sustainable welfare literatures demonstrate that to re-embed Western production and consumption patterns in environmental limits, an encompassing social-ecological transformation would need to be initiated very soon. This article focuses on the potential roles of the welfare state and social policy in this transformation, applying the concepts of ‘sustainable welfare’ and ‘safe-operating space’. Based on two Swedish studies, it also provides an empirical analysis of the popularity of selected eco-social policies designed to steer the economy and society towards this space: maximum and basic incomes, taxes on wealth and meat, as well as working time reductions. In analogy to the historical role of the state in reconstituting the welfare-work nexus in the post-WWII era and its present engagement in the context of the Covid-19 crisis, it is argued that a more interventionist state is required to grapple with climate emergency.