Covid (In)equalities: labor market protection, health, and residential care in Germany, Sweden, and the UK

Nick Ellison, Paula Blomqvist, Timo Fleckenstein

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How have differently institutionalized welfare regimes dealt with the Covid-19 crisis? In particular, how have they confronted the social and economic inequalities exposed by the virus? Taking three European countries—Germany, Sweden, and the UK, corresponding broadly to conservative-continental, social democratic, and liberal regime types—this paper tracks the virus response in the areas of income and employment protection and health and residential care. With attention paid to issues of “capacity” and the institutional arrangements in each case, we find that institutional histories in Germany and Sweden permitted a certain recidivistic reliance on established practices in the areas of employment and social protection. In sum, certain social and economic inequalities were mitigated as these countries set aside recent trends toward “liberalization” and mobilized longer-standing institutional capacities to protect some groups, although by no means all. Evidence of this trend is less clear in the health and residential care sectors, where Germany had existing capacity, allowing its older population to weather the crisis in better order than its counterparts in Sweden and the UK. In the UK, welfare liberalization has led to increased social and economic inequalities and funding reductions in health and residential care—all of which have reduced the country’s ability to deal with severe crisis. The Covid response in this case was agile, but also chaotic, with little being done to ameliorate the positions of the most vulnerable groups.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)247-259
JournalPolicy and Society
Issue number2
Early online date16 Feb 2022
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022

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© The Author(s) 2022.


  • Covid-19, Equality, Employment protection, Health, Social Care

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