The creation of the welfare state was one of the great achievements of the 20th century. Across Europe a range of different welfare systems helped lift millions out of destitution, provided education and healthcare to those who could not afford it, and created an essential safety net for society during periods of recession.
But while these achievements cannot be underestimated it is also clear that the traditional model of the welfare state – particularly in Ireland – is now under significant pressure. A combination of an ageing population, increased expectations and a more polarised jobs market is raising significant questions about its long term sustainability. At the same the demand from many citizens for a greater say in how services are delivered to them is undermining the overly centralised, command and control approach to welfare which has dominated since the Second World War.