Social policies predate the welfare state and have left their mark on the genesis and development of the welfare state in different countries, that testifies to the importance of historical and ideological path-dependencies of social policies in different countries.

The political/political-economy ecology literature links theories of social welfare and welfare state to environmental issues like resource use through the relationship between economic growth and sustainability. Orthodox mainstream neo-classical and Keynesian economics rely on economic growth in order to raise living standards but using different channels and mechanisms. It is this reliance on economic growth and its depletive effect on environmental resources that has lied at the heart of the critiques of growth oriented liberal/neo-liberal or Keynesian economic policies, and for that matter, economic policies of centralised economies of socialist countries.

This paper will start with a critique of conservative environmentalism that is inspired by Malthusian population pressure (with all its social policy implications), that to some extent also informs the degrowth approach. It would then ask how to meet the increasing health, education and other social needs whilst minimising the depletion of natural resources. I argue that the answer to the question of a sustainable social policy in part lies in an economic model, a la Kalecki and others, that can manage/negotiate the composition of output whilst investing in resources to reduce depletion of natural resources and greenhouse emissions. This is a growth strategy based on ‘the human theory of needs’ that meets the needs of current generation and provides some measure of inter-generational justice. The welfare and social policy counterpart of this should involve public and collective provisioning of socially necessary services of health and education as well as a range of other care services that will reduce per capita cost through economies of scale and scope whilst providing an equitable access to these services – universal provision and access and not targeting is at the heart of this approach.

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ISS Working Papers - General Series
ISS Working Paper Series / General Series

A revised version of this working paper will be published as:
Messkoub, M. (2022) 'Sustainability and Social Policy Nexus' in Karagiannis, N. and King, J. E. (eds) (2022) Visions and Strategies for a Sustainable Economy. London, New York, Shanghai: Palgrave-Macmillan publishers. Chapter 8.

International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University (ISS)

Messkoub, M. (2021). Sustainability and social policy nexus (No. 685). ISS Working Paper Series / General Series. Retrieved from