Social Insurance, Social State and Social Security

Various terms are used to denominate modern social policy systems. Among the Swiss public sphere, the term ‘social insurance’ has been dominant since the 19th century. In comparison, alternative designations such as ‘social state’, ‘welfare state’ or ‘social security’ are used more rarely or only among experts.

Terms such as ‘social insurance’, ‘social state’, ‘welfare state’ or ‘social security’ are often used to refer to the same institutions, although sometimes with different emphasis. These terms have also undergone change throughout history and they have gained in Switzerland a specific importance shaped by national context.

Social Insurance

In Switzerland, the state only developed broad protection against social risks in the second half of the 20th century. Terms like the ‘social state’ or ‘welfare state’ were therefore relatively uncommon in Switzerland for a long time. This was not the case with social insurance. The constitution (article 34bis) already granted the Confederation the power to set up individual social insurance branches in 1890, particularly health and accident insurance. The Confederation took inspiration from Germany which had introduced compulsory health and accident insurance as well as old age and disability insurance for workers and other wageworkers in the 1880s. The wider public picked up the term 'social insurance' by no later than 1912, after the health and accident insurance was accepted by a referendum and the Confederation subsequently established the Federal Social Insurance Office (BSV) in 1913 and the Swiss Insurance Court in 1917. 

Scientific experts also helped give the term ‘social insurance’ increasing acceptance. This particularly involved insurance-related fields such as actuarial mathematics, occupational and insurance medicine as well as insurance law. The term ‘social insurance’ – or ‘workers’ insurance’ – likewise dominated international discourse. For instance, this manifested itself in numerous congresses on socio-political issues such as the International Congress for Workers’ Insurance (from 1889 onwards) or the International Congress for Actuarial Mathematics (from 1895 onwards). At the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), Ernst Amberg offered a lecture on the ‘mathematical problems of social insurance’ from 1917 onwards.

Even after the Second World War, social insurance remained a relevant term since it encompassed a variety of insurance forms and providers and was thus well suited to Swiss circumstances. The continued spread of the term can also be seen in the Social Insurance Review(Zeitschrift für Sozialversicherung) established in 1957. The journal gave a common platform to legal, medical, mathematical and statistical experts from various branches of social insurance, as well as to state, public and private entities. It aimed to help answer any questions raised in connection with the ‘massive expansion of social insurance’. It was renamed to the Social Insurance and Occupational Provision Review (Zeitschrift für Sozialversicherung und berufliche Vorsorge) in 1981.

Social State and Welfare State

In Switzerland, the terms ‘social state’ and ‘welfare state’ only became more widespread in the last third of the 20th century. From the very beginning, they were used in a partisan and ideological manner. By contrast with social insurance, the ‘social state’ and ‘welfare state’ referred to the state as being the central provider of social policy. This raised the issue of to what extent and within which limits should the state intervene in social policy. An early example of this partisan meaning includes a polemic pamphlet published by the Zurich minister and socialist – and eventual member of the Zurich City Council and the National Council – Paul Pflüger in 1899, which was entitled The Swiss Social State.Adopting the style of contemporary utopian novels, he laid out his idealist vision of how the Swiss social state would look like in half a century. Pflüger’s social state was not confined to social welfare in its strictest sense; instead, it envisioned extensive state services, guaranteed various basic social rights and was practiced by both state and public institutions. Pflüger envisaged broad regulation in economic matters, either by social partners or by the state. 

Until the mid-20th century, the term ‘welfare state’ (like ‘Etat providence’ in French) was primarily used by conservative and liberal critics of social insurance. It implied the excessive intervention of the state in social affairs. In 1955, the economist and social philosopher Wilhelm Röpke criticized the expansion of state interventionism in the postwar period in The Limits and Dangers of the Welfare State. He contrasted the “wide variety of smaller and diverse institutions” as a positive counterexample against the “mechanized mass welfare of the centralized welfare state”. Röpke considered both Switzerland and the United States as good examples for his lean, anti-statist model in opposition to the welfare state.

At an international level, the Beveridge Report of 1942 signified a turning point in the importance of the welfare state. Beveridge interpreted the term positively; the broad attention afforded to his report established a new understanding of welfare internationally. However, this positive meaning only gradually took hold in Switzerland. The German language generally favors the term ‘Sozialstaat’ or ‘social state’ over the term ‘welfare state’ which is more common internationally. By contrast, in French, ‘Etat social’ (social state) is used relatively rarely. 

Unlike in politics and among the general public, the welfare state has gained broad acceptance as a term in academia. In social sciences in particular, the term has undergone widespread adoption since the 1980s – primarily due its use in English. However, among experts who engage with social security in a professional context, the term ‘social state’ has been preferred over ‘welfare state’.

Social Security

‘Social security’ is the most recent and most established term among those discussed here. Experts of social welfare systems primarily use it in scholarly contexts and. The meaning of social security is more comprehensive than that of social insurance as it also encompasses provision by private organizations (such as pension funds and health funds) rather than by the state exclusively.

The term ‘social security’ has had an international trajectory. The U.S. Social Security Act of 1935 introduced old age benefits and unemployment insurance and made social security the centerpiece of the New Deal. The term was also used in 1944 in the Declaration of Philadelphia of the International Labor Organization (ILO). The example of the International Social Security Association (ISSA) demonstrates that the term ‘social security’ also expanded and even replaced ‘social insurance’ on the international level. The ISSA was founded in 1927 under the name ‘Conférence internationale des unions nationales de sociétés mutuelles et de caisses d'assurance maladie’ (International conference of national associations for mutual societies and health insurance funds) and renamed in 1936 to ‘Conférence internationale de la mutualité et des assurances sociales’ (International conference for mutual societies and social insurance). It only adopted its present name – containing the term ‘social security’ – in 1947. The term gained further application in 1945 with the implementation of the French Sécurité sociale, which developed into a comprehensive social insurance system over the following years. Moreover, the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 stipulated a ‘right to social security’ (article 22). In connection with the 1952 ‘Minimum standards of social security’, the International Labor Organization stated in one of its most significant decrees, Convention 102, nine different social risks individuals were to be protected against: illness, loss of income due to illness, old age, occupational accidents and illnesses, maternity, disability, death and family burdens. Switzerland did not initially ratify the convention, as it did not satisfy the minimum criteria, deferring ratification until 1977.

Since then, the Federal Social Insurance Office has also been using the term ‘social security’ to encompass its sphere of competence. The journalSoziale Sicherheit (Social Security)was first published in 1993. According to international usage, the Federal Social Insurance Office defines social security as the entirety of measures taken by public and private institutions aimed at protecting people or households against social risks and ensuring their subsistence. This definition emphasizes that social security not only involves state provision, even though the state does play a central role in it.

Literatur / Bibliographie / Bibliografia / References: Lengwiler Martin (2015), Cultural Meanings of Social Security in Postwar Europe, in Social Science History 39, 85-106 ; Cédric Guinand (2008), Zur Entstehung von IVSS und IAO, in Internationale Revue für Soziale Sicherheit 61, 93-111 ; Bundesamt für Sozialversicherungen (2007), Soziale Sicherheit. Forschungskonzept 2008-2011, Bern.