The Informal Welfare State and the Family: Invisible Actors in the Greek Drama



Are European welfare states, especially in the European periphery, ‘fair-weather systems’? Can they survive a sustained and deep crisis and still fulfil basic functions? This article argues that to answer these questions we must look at the interplay between ‘formal’ and ‘informal’, family-based, social protection. Social protection services in all countries, but especially in Southern Europe, have always been provided by a hybrid system comprised of state-based and residual family-based systems, where gender plays a critical role. Austerity tests the capacity of formal welfare provision, and so eats into the liquidity of the informal support system. The crisis is thus transmitted from the state to the family. By examining the case of Greece, the article underlines the need for a joint analysis of both parts of the welfare state in the context of the unfolding crisis. A full understanding of crisis dynamics requires innovation in theoretical approaches, in the type of data needed and in policy thinking.