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The voluntary sector and welfare policies in rural areas

Working Group 14: The voluntary sector and welfare policies in rural areas

Diana E. Valero López [1], Jaime Escribano Pizarro [1], Annette Aagaard Thuesen [2], Helle Nørgaard [3]

1: Local Development Institute, University of Valencia, Spain; 2: Danish Centre for Rural Research, University of Southern Denmark, Denmark; 3: Danish Building Research Institute, Aalborg University, Denmark

The decline in local economic activity and public resources in many countries means that volunteering or innovative public-voluntary cooperation in relation to future welfare provision in rural areas has become important. Social and voluntary action is also a key element in relation to social exclusion in the current socio-economic context. Neoliberal policies tend to diminish welfare policies which in times of economic crisis make both people and places more vulnerable. In this sense, the increase of socially vulnerable places coincide with the reduction of welfare  policies as a consequence of financial austerity and cutbacks, leaving as a result an important field of social situations which are assisted by families and voluntary systems. However, not all territories have the same resources or possibilities to overcome the (new) social problems that the crisis has developed or aggravated. In rural areas where cutbacks in public services can be especially serious the voluntary structures show important differences from those settled in urban areas, the co-production between public authorities and voluntary groups can be seen as a new venue in welfare provision. Traditional issues of accessibility, service proximity and mobility make the progressive withdrawal of public action and the substitution of territorial justice and social equity criteria by free market principles worse. In general, therefore, it seems that a great part of the unaccomplished needs and demands of rural households, especially those in the most vulnerable positions, are being attended by innovative public-voluntary cooperation. This co-production based on voluntary citizen cooperation and participation (Brudney and England, 1983) emphasizes that there is an overlap between regular producers and consumers in co-production, and that the citizen involvement or participation in service delivery is resulting in positive outcomes in relation to welfare provision in rural areas. This working group wishes to explore the development of this co-production which focuses their activities in the social needs of European rural areas. Basically, because the recent trend towards more responsibility for welfare production by the voluntary sector justifies a discussion about: i) local communities capacity to engage in this co-production, ii) how are they organized (or which are the features of the third sector), iii) what kind of social needs are they addressing, iv) who are being addressed, and (v) the impacts of their activities. Theoretical papers and case study experiences with concrete empirical examples about co-production by voluntary groups and community movements in rural areas are welcomed. In this way, this WG will expect to contribute to existing knowledge about solutions adopted to overcome the institutional vacuums left in the welfare models by the austerity policies in rural areas.