Flexibilization of Welfare: welfare strategies in Asian societies

Many Asian countries and cities have experienced rapid economic growth since the 1990s and at the same time have to face increasing economic crisis such as the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s and global financial tsunami in 2008/09. This creates rising demand on social welfare and increasing grievances among the citizens. Many of these states tend to resort to ad hoc welfare strategies such as handing out short-term and piecemeal cash subsidies to their citizens, reduction of salary tax, waive of property rate and tax, consumption voucher, and health care voucher. This can be termed 'flexible welfare strategy', which is becoming common in Asian societies such as Macao, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.

This paper points out that this strategies of flexibilization of welfare is not a new innovation, but an extension of 'flexible accumulation' strategy (David Harvey). Flexible accumulation has led to casualization of work and over-exploitation of workers. Similarly, flexible welfare strategy is unlikely to meet the long term needs of the citizens. This paper argues that flexible welfare strategy is ineffective in solving social problems we are facing today. At best, it is only a pain killer that pacifies grievances of the citizens temporarily. However, this is wasting resources, expensive, unsustainable, and lack of long term effect. Moreover, this contributes to reinforcing social inequalities, widening the gap between the rich and the poor; and may reinforce discrimination against new immigrants and ethnic minorities. This paper calls for a thorough evaluation of this 'flexible welfare strategy' and develop more appropriate welfare strategy to face the age of uncertainty.