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Keywords:

  • Attitudes;
  • Insecurity;
  • Middle-class;
  • Germany;
  • Welfare state reform

Abstract

The working-class is typically regarded as the driving force of welfare state development. Yet, some argue that the middle-classes' beneficial involvement in the welfare state is crucial for its financial sustainability and popular legitimacy. Against this backdrop, we investigate how recent welfare state reforms in Germany which affect the status of the middle-class are viewed and discussed by this group. Germany is a particularly interesting case because its welfare state is seen to be centred on the desires of the middle-class, especially through its focus on status maintenance and horizontal redistribution over the life-course. However, the move from status maintenance to minimum income support in unemployment provision and the strengthening of private old age provision challenge this assumption. Thus, we ask how the German middle-class views the emerging abandonment of the principle of status maintenance and the shift from collective to individual responsibility. Based on qualitative material from focus groups, we find that individual responsibility is generally supported, but that the state is still assigned responsibility for providing basic levels of social security. Furthermore, for those groups seen as less capable of acting individually responsible (e.g. the poor or long-term unemployed) the ‘inducement’ of – or assistance for – individually responsible behaviour by the state is demanded. Overall, while the principle of ‘individual responsibility’ seems to find some resonance among the middle-class members interviewed, they still try to balance individual and collective responsibility.