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Socio-Political Actors or Simply Charity Providers? Religious Welfare Organisations and the Implementation of Welfare Policies in Western and Eastern Europe

Comparative Politics
Religion
Social Welfare
Policy Implementation
Matthias Kortmann
Technical University of Dortmund
Matthias Kortmann
Technical University of Dortmund
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Abstract

Irrespective of secularization processes, governments have identified religious organizations (again) as potential actors which may fill the gaps the state has increasingly left during the last decades. At the same time, religious organizations themselves have also been increasingly aware of their possible (renewed) role they and their values might be able to play in the sphere of public welfare. However, faith-based organization are confronted with the potential conflict between their wish to fulfil their welfare work in line with their moral values and the danger of being exploited by state representatives who perceive them first and foremost as charity providers on their behalf. Comparing the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Poland this paper examines the views of religious organizations on their role in the implementation of social policies and as providers of welfare services on behalf of the state, respectively. The question of the study is, first, how religious welfare providers deal with their renewed (potential) role in welfare against the background of increasing secularization and marketization, thus in the light of contextual factors that differ from those they were confronted with in former times before the development of centralized welfare states. Second, the project asks how the role of religious welfare providers (in their view) differs in Western European countries with longer traditions of faith-based welfare and in Eastern Europe, where social service delivery is a newer phenomenon after a sharp break of more than four decades during the Communist rule. The project is based on a content analysis of documents published by Protestant and Catholic welfare organizations in the three countries. Furthermore, semi-structured interviews have been conducted with representatives from religious welfare organizations. The study shows that in countries where the separation between church and state (such as in Netherlands) is rather strict, religious organizations tend to downplay their religious character in order to refute suspicions they might use their welfare work for missionary goals. In contrast, in countries with patterns of state-church cooperation (such as in Poland and the UK) religious organizations frame their activities in welfare policy implementation more openly as being in line with their moral values. Second, with regard to their role in welfare politics, the study implies that political advocacy by religious welfare organizations in Poland is still considerably less significant than in the UK and the Netherlands. Finally, independent from specific national contexts, in all three countries compared religious welfare organizations are confronted with similar motives by the authorities when being included: the search for cheap alternatives in welfare delivery in times of retrenchment.