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The Scandinavian welfare states are often presented in the welfare state literature as prototypical examples of the universal welfare state (Béland et al., 2014 ; Erikson et al., 1987 ; Kautto et al., 1999). However, there is also a tendency in the universalism literature to draw the most far-reaching conclusions on a relatively thin empirical basis. Often, the concept of universalism remains undefined and the number of policies analysed is typically limited. Korpi and Palme (1998), for instance, make statements about universal traits of welfare states on the basis of an analysis of old-age pensions and sickness benefits, even though the welfare state consists of a very broad array of policies and programme areas.
Another oft-overlooked problem is that many European welfare states are very decentral in nature (Kutsar and Kuronen, 2015), meaning that the municipalities play a major role as responsible agents in the formulation and provision of welfare benefits, including service provision. This is the case in Denmark, which allegedly belongs to the Scandinavian family of universal welfare states. The municipal autonomy pertaining to a number of welfare areas is relatively developed, which is supported by the right of individual municipalities to collect income taxes from residents. In Denmark, cash benefits, disability benefits, schools and childcare institutions are largely coordinated and financed by municipalities. Obviously, a high degree of municipal autonomy in the formulation and implementation of policy contributes to the emergence of a patchwork of municipal welfare states, where the quality of a given benefit varies from one municipality to another…

Per H. Jensen
Professor of Social Policy, Centre for Comparative Welfare Studies, Aalborg University.
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