Muddling Through – The Trials and Tribulations of Social Security
Terms travel badly. As a consequence, seemingly innocent words are often loaded with meaning that is ‘context specific’, in the absence of which, they are difficult to comprehend fully. Not to make too fine a point, the unthinking use of certain terms risks obfuscating rather than illuminating the issue under consideration. Social security, the focus of this chapter, seems to be one of those terms. It has been noted (Atkinson, 1995) that while in Britain it recalls the entire system of cash benefits, in the US ‘social security’ is used as a shorthand for contributory pensions alone (whereas social assistance is referred to as Welfare, a term with far more negative connotations). In continental Europe, the issue is complicated further by linguistic considerations. However, both Sécurité Sociale and Soziale Sicherheit are taken to imply a range of social insurance programmes including health but excluding social assistance (known as Solidarité Nationale and Sozialhilfe in France and Germany respectively).