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Social rights and user charges: resistance or subsumption?

posted on 2023-06-09, 03:43 authored by Amir Paz-FuchsAmir Paz-Fuchs
Along with privatisation, contracting out and “new” management techniques, one of the important, but less discussed, manifestations of the way neo-liberal ideology and policies have changed social services is through the requirement that individuals pay for public services that were once offered free of charge. In the UK, for example, over 600 individual services impose user charges. A similar, but alternative, method is to offer a premium service in a given sector (e.g. health, education) at a prescribed cost. As an indication of the importance of the trend, the OECD has recently offered a definition of user charges which is relatively straightforward: “payments made by consumers to providers of government services”. Moreover, with the change of policy comes an additional change, that of expectations. If people once expected free (at the point of consumption, not production, of course) services, current generations are increasingly accustomed to receiving social services at a cost. Through these relatively small charges, the relationship between the citizen and the state is being transformed. The citizen, we are told, is now the ‘citizen-consumer’, who “expects improved standards from public services, in line with those supplied by the private sector”. Replicating free market services, such charges are seen as part of an overall strategy to “roll back the frontiers of the state”. But if that is the case, where do rights come in? Rights, after all, are “especially sturdy objects to stand upon, a most useful sort of moral furniture”. They have the potential, at the very least, to alter the confines of the debate that would have taken place in their absence. A world without the right to freedom of speech, we assume, would be different from a world in which such a right is granted and respected. Focusing on social services in general, and on health and education in particular, we therefore need to inquire what impact social rights may have on this trend or on its effects.


Publication status

  • Published

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  • Accepted version



Book title

Social rights in the welfare state : origins and transformations

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  • Law Publications

Research groups affiliated with

  • Sussex Rights and Justice Research Centre Publications

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Peer reviewed?

  • Yes


Kenneth Veitch, Toomas Kootkas

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