The Welfare State, Bureaucratic Rationalisation and Social Benefits: Questioning the “Efficiency” of Social Security Offices and their Staff (1945-1980s)

White Collar Workers and Welfare State in France Since 1945
By Christophe Capuano

This paper investigates the notion of “efficiency” and financial and management indicators to assess the success or failures of Social Security offices and their staff during the heyday of the Welfare State, from 1945 to the 1980s. In this context, local Social Security offices had to register new beneficiaries, implement a certain degree of social justice through revenue redistribution, while also maintaining a financial balance between contributions and expenses. Based mainly on an analysis of first-hand accounts from a cohort of former Social Security employees, this research paper aims to cast light on the obstacles that these institutions faced, as well as their assets, in completing their mission. Social Security staff played a decisive role in many respects. They were able to overcome structurally limited productivity thanks to substantial dedication to their tasks. In particular, they successfully gave social benefit programmes a “human face”, at least until financial imbalances forced these offices to cut back on overheads.

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