This dissertation takes a step towards providing a better understanding of post-socialist welfare state development from a theoretical as well as an empirical perspective. The overall analytical goal of this thesis has been to critically assess the development of social policies in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania using them as illustrative examples of post-socialist welfare state development in the light of the theories, approaches and typologies that have been developed to study affluent capitalist democracies. The four studies included in this dissertation aspire to a common aim in a number of specific ways.
The first study tries to place the ideal-typical welfare state models of the Baltic States within the well-known welfare state typologies. At the same time, it provides a rich overview of the main social security institutions in the three countries by comparing them with each other and with the previous structures of the Soviet period. It examines the social insurance institutions of the Baltic States (old-age pensions, unemployment insurance, short-term benefits, sickness, maternity and parental insurance and family benefits) with respect to conditions of eligibility, replacement rates, financing and contributions. The findings of this study indicate that the Latvian social security system can generally be labelled as a mix of the basic security and corporatist models. The Estonian social security system can generally also be characterised as a mix of the basic security and corporatist models, even if there are some weak elements of the targeted model in it. It appears that the institutional changes developing in the social security system of Lithuania have led to a combination of the basic security and targeted models of the welfare state. Nevertheless, as the example of the three Baltic States shows, there is diversity in how these countries solve problems within the field of social policy. In studying the social security schemes in detail, some common features were found that could be attributed to all three countries. Therefore, the critical analysis of the main social security institutions of the Baltic States in this study gave strong supporting evidence in favour of identifying the post-socialist regime type that is already gaining acceptance within comparative welfare state research.
Study Two compares the system of social maintenance and insurance in the Soviet Union, which was in force in the three Baltic countries before their independence, with the currently existing social security systems. The aim of the essay is to highlight the forces that have influenced the transformation of the social policy from its former highly universal, albeit authoritarian, form, to the less universal, social insurance-based systems of present-day Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. This study demonstrates that the welfare–economy nexus is not the only important factor in the development of social programs. The results of this analysis revealed that people's attitudes towards distributive justice and the developmental level of civil society also play an important part in shaping social policies. The shift to individualism in people’s mentality and the decline of the labour movement, or, to be more precise, the decline in trade union membership and influence, does nothing to promote the development of social rights in the Baltic countries and hinders the expansion of social policies. The legacy of the past has been another important factor in shaping social programs. It can be concluded that social policy should be studied as if embedded not only in the welfare-economy nexus, but also in the societal, historical and cultural nexus of a given society.
Study Three discusses the views of the state elites on family policy within a wider theoretical setting covering family policy and social policy in a broader sense and attempts to expand this analytical framework to include other post-socialist countries. The aim of this essay is to explore the various views of the state elites in the Baltics concerning family policy and, in particular, family benefits as one of the possible explanations for the observed policy differences. The qualitative analyses indicate that the Baltic States differ significantly with regard to the motives behind their family policies. Lithuanian decision-makers seek to reduce poverty among families with children and enhance the parents’ responsibility for bringing up their children. Latvian policy-makers act so as to increase the birth rate and create equal opportunities for children from all families. Estonian policy-makers seek to create equal opportunities for all children and the desire to enhance gender equality is more visible in the case of Estonia in comparison with the other two countries. It is strongly arguable that there is a link between the underlying motives and the kinds of family benefits in a given country. This study, thus, indicates how intimately the attitudes of the state bureaucrats, policy-makers, political elite and researchers shape social policy. It confirms that family policy is a product of the prevailing ideology within a country, while the potential influence of globalisation and Europeanisation is detectable too.
The final essay takes into account the opinions of welfare users and examines the performances of the institutionalised family benefits by relying on the recipients’ opinions regarding these benefits. The opinions of the populations as a whole regarding government efforts to help families are compared with those of the welfare users. Various family benefits are evaluated according to the recipients' satisfaction with those benefits as well as the contemporaneous levels of subjective satisfaction with the welfare programs related to the absolute level of expenditure on each program. The findings of this paper indicate that, in Latvia, people experience a lower level of success regarding state-run family insurance institutions, as compared to those in Lithuania and Estonia. This is deemed to be because the cash benefits for families and children in Latvia are, on average, seen as marginally influencing the overall financial situation of the families concerned. In Lithuania and Estonia, the overwhelming majority think that the family benefit systems improve the financial situation of families. It appears that recipients evaluated universal family benefits as less positive than targeted benefits. Some universal benefits negatively influenced the level of general satisfaction with the family benefits system provided in the countries being researched. This study puts forward a discussion about whether universalism is always more legitimate than targeting. In transitional economies, in which resources are highly constrained, some forms of universal benefits could turn out to be very expensive in relative terms, without being seen as useful or legitimate forms of help to families.
In sum, by closely examining the different aspects of social policy, this dissertation goes beyond the over-generalisation of Eastern European welfare state development and, instead, takes a more detailed look at what is really going on in these countries through the examples of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. In addition, another important contribution made by this study is that it revives ‘western’ theoretical knowledge through ‘eastern’ empirical evidence and provides the opportunity to expand the theoretical framework for post-socialist societies.