The results of our thought experiment – i.e. our estimation that a small but substantial share of the population is likely to be at risk of accessibility poverty – obviously reflect the transport policies and investments enacted over the past decades in most developed countries. Indeed, it can be argued that the incidence of accessibility poverty is partly the consequence of the largely demand-driven transport policies and of the lack of attention for equity concerns in the domain of transport [39, 57]. In what follows, we will contrast the approach in transport domain with the equity principles as prevalent in other key domains of government intervention: health care, education, and housing.
We start our analysis with a report published by the Netherlands Institute for Social Research (SCP), which compares public sector performance in 28 developed countries .Footnote 1 While each of these countries obviously had its own particular development of the public sector, there proof to be surprisingly similarities. In almost all societies education, health care and social protection are the largest (government) sectors. These sectors are central in the SCP study, but also substantial attention is given to housing. Missing in the report is a discussion of the provision of transport services and infrastructures.
5.1 The provision of (public) services in welfare states
As may be expected, the 28 countries show substantial differences in the role of the government in the provision of different (public) services, and hence in the achievement of a range of policy goals. In all countries governments are heavily involved in the regulation, financing and delivery of health care, education and housing, but organization and magnitude of the involvement differ, as may be expected.
To some extent, the provision of public services is related to the type of welfare state. The most comprehensive work on this theme is Esping-Andersen’s Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism (; see for a critical discussion ). Esping-Andersen defined a welfare state regime as a complex system of legal, institutional, neatly intertwined, arrangements of social policy. The division in types of welfare states is based on the degree of de-commodification: the extent to which households, irrespective of their market income, can maintain or reach a socially accepted living standard.
Esping-Andersen identified three types of welfare states. First, the liberal welfare state. In this case, the state has a relatively weak position in structuring the social and economic life of its households, and social benefits provided by the state are means-tested and targeted at the lowest income stratum, which leads to stigmatization and residualization of state benefit recipients. The United States can be seen as an example of a liberal welfare state. The second is the social democratic welfare state, with a far stronger role of the state. Here, social benefits are more generous, and universal in provision, leading to far lower degrees of income inequality, and less stigmatization of the poorest households. In between these two types are the conservative, corporatist welfare states. They do not embrace a universal social system as the social democratic welfare states do, but state provisions are generous as in the social democratic welfare state.
On the basis of the research presented in Countries compared on public performance it can be noticed that the welfare states show more substantial differences in the provision of social protection, social welfare, and housing, than in the provision of education or health care (with the USA being until recently a notable exception).
In the next sub-sections the focus will be on equity principles underlying the provision of health, education, housing and mobility.
5.2 Equity principles underlying the provision of health care
With the exception of the United States, there is vast agreement among developed countries about the equity principles that should guide the provision of health care. Indeed, most European, and many non- European, health care systems are based on a fundamental notion of solidarity , meaning that people ought to have equal access to a reasonable minimum range and standard of health care services irrespective of their ability to pay for these services . More precisely, the basic equity principles guiding health care provision in most countries can be summarized as follows: (1) equal access to health care for persons with a comparable need for health care, and (2) equal utilization of health care for those in equal need of health care . The extent to which these principles are actually achieved in the delivery of health care differs across countries, in part as a result of the particular structure of the health care system. Jonker  reports that the first principle of “equal treatment for equal need” is met to a high degree in primary health care in most countries, but that there is a tendency towards “pro rich” secondary health care in some of the wealthier OECD-countries. That is, weaker population groups, in terms of socio-economic position, gender and ethnicity, show a lower uptake of specialized health care than better positioned citizens. Furthermore, there is some relation between the requirement of out-of-pocket payments and unmet health needs among in particular the lowest income quintiles, suggesting that equity principles are also not completely met for primary health care.
The latter findings, however, do not imply that equity principles do not play an important role in the delivery of health care. They merely underscore the ongoing challenge to balance equity and the costs of health care provision. Furthermore, they also show the importance of other resources, such as education and social capital, in the actual reception of health care provision .
5.3 Equity principles in the provision of education
Like in the case of health care, there is broad agreement in developed countries about equity principles in the domain of education. This agreement is reflected in the United Nations statement that education should ‘enable all individuals to realize their right to learn and to fulfill their responsibility to contribute to the development of their society’. It is also reflected in Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. (…) Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit” . Countries have set up quite different educational institutions, but the key equity principle guiding the provision of education in virtually all developed country is the notion of equal access to primary and secondary education. It is broadly understood that equal access to education is undermined if people have to pay the costs for primary and secondary education themselves, as these costs are typically higher than most low and middle-income households can afford from their annual incomes. The fundamental goal of education policies is thus to guarantee that children have equal opportunities to obtain a (basic) education, irrespective of their parents’ or caretakers’ income, background or preferences ([2, 24], p. 73).
Clearly, education has a value for society beyond the benefits education confers to the individual. Education cannot only empower the individual, but it also enables society to ‘tap’ into all ‘human capital’ of a new generation, which is considered to be beneficial for economic development. Furthermore, education also serves the purpose of socializing and informing people and thus fostering social cohesion in a society. These are additional reasons for government involvement in the provision of education, but they are not directly related to concerns over equity and do not necessarily imply equal access to education. It is the concern for equality of opportunity that provides the philosophical underpinning for the equity principle of equal access to education.
5.4 The provision of housing
Housing provision differs from the provision of health care and education. In the latter cases, provision is heavily dependent on public expenditure, financed through some form of (general) taxation or health insurance scheme. In contrast, direct government spending is often limited in the housing sector; by far the greatest share of housing consumption and housing production takes place through the market. For this reason, housing is sometimes called the “wobbly pillar” of welfare states .
Yet, in virtually all developed countries, housing policies are based on firm and widely shared equity principles. Indeed, as we will discuss below, the equity principle underpinning housing regimes is often enshrined in national constitutions. In such cases, the underpinning equity principle has taken on the form of a right, i.e. the right to adequate housing. This right also guides housing policies in many developed countries that have not legally formalized a right to housing [7, 52].
Yet, because the important role of the market in the provision of housing, public expenditure for housing is more contested than for health care and education . This is so in part because most households are able to purchase and maintain an adequate level of housing themselves, in particular in developed countries with a well-functioning mortgage market. The share of the population able to secure an adequate level of housing has also increased over the past decades. For instance, in the UK, the share of home-owning households has increased from 58% to 70% since the 1970s, with a parallel reduction in households in the social sector.
The dominance of the market in the housing sector in most developed countries implies that policies guaranteeing an adequate level of housing only benefit a minority of the population, a minority that has also decreased in size over the past decades. Nevertheless, virtually all developed countries are involved in the regulation of the housing sector with the aim of providing housing for this minority of the population. Indeed, Bengtsson (2001 cited in ) argues that housing policies are best understood as “state correctives to the market”. These “correctives” typically aim to guarantee affordable and adequate housing to households that are not able to secure housing on the market. Countries differ widely in the way in which they achieve this goal, but typically combine subsidization of supply, subsidization of demand (typically renters) and rent regulation.
The ways these policy tools are employed differs substantially between countries. In line with the categorization of the three types of welfare states above, a number of countries opt for a housing policy with public expenditure only aimed at the lowest income segments of society, thus leading to policies based on residualization, i.e. a clear delineation of a small population group that cannot cater for its own needs. Yet other countries provide (partly) publicly financed housing to a larger segment of the population. This leads to different figures on the magnitude of the social rental sector, ranging from about 30% in the Netherlands, to around 20% in France, United Kingdom and Sweden, only a few percent in Italy and Canada, and to zero in Germany (where another system for providing housing for lower incomes has been introduced after recent privatization) (, p. 242).
The relatively modest size of government expenditure in the housing sector, in contrast to the domains of education and health care, underlines that regulation is at least as important in securing equity in the domain of housing as direct government spending .
5.5 Provision of mobility
Mobility cannot even be considered a ‘pillar’ of modern welfare states. States do spend a substantial share of their budget on transport infrastructure and services, but the extent and direction of this spending is typically based on notions of economic efficiency rather than considerations of welfare and equity. Furthermore, private expenditures take up a large share of total spending, notably through the purchase of vehicles and fuel. Most households are able to buy both commodities, as well as afford the taxes that are used to finance, maintain and operate public infrastructures, from their incomes.
Yet, as we have shown in the first part of this paper, it is clear that a small, but certainly not insignificant, share of households will experience problems in purchasing an adequate level of car-based mobility and accessibility. Their problems are to some extent mitigated through the provision of transport services via public expenditures. Governments typically spend public budgets on creating, maintaining and operating walking and cycling infrastructures, public transport services, and on-demand mobility services (for instance for the elderly and for persons experiencing travel-related impairments). While these infrastructures and services are typically (heavily) subsidized in the sense that the full costs of provision are not born directly by the users, their provision and continued operation is often subject to considerations of economic efficiency, at best in addition to considerations of welfare. Considerations of welfare and equity, in turn, have been poorly specified in the domain of transport, which makes the sector stand out vis-à-vis the other policy domains discussed above. Martens and Lucas argue that much of the public subsidies are best seen as some form of charity or benevolence, rather than a matter of justice (). Equity principles empower (potential) recipients and in particular weak population groups vis-à-vis state institutions. In contrast, when public subsidies are distributed as a matter of charity, the power remains in the hands of the benefactor, i.e. the government, who can give, withhold or withdraw subsidies as it sees fit. Hence our conclusion that the domain of transport cannot (yet) be seen as a pillar of welfare states.
5.6 Intermediate conclusion
The overview provided above leads us to draw a distinction between health care and education on the one hand, and housing and mobility on the other.
Health care and education have in common that a large share of the population is unable to obtain an adequate level of each of these services from their regular income. Against this background, there is broad agreement in most developed countries that governments have a key role to play in the guaranteeing the delivery of these goods. The underlying equity principles are typically egalitarian in nature: they guarantee equal entrance and service delivery rights for all households. Typically, too, households who want to obtain a better quality of delivery than the level-of-service guaranteed to all households, may purchase additional services from their own incomes. In some countries the creation of such “pro-rich” systems is discouraged, because concerns about the development of two-tier service levels and to loss of solidarity.
The domain of housing and mobility have in common that the vast majority of the population is able to purchase an adequate level of these services from their regular income. Moreover, this share of the population has been steadily increasing over the past decades and the general expectation is that most households will continue to be able to obtain ample housing and mobility services via the market. At the same time, a small but significant minority of households has not been, and will not be able, to fulfill their housing and mobility needs via the market. It could thus be argued that the ‘equity challenge’ is comparable in the domains of housing and mobility. Yet, the role of governments in both domains is fundamentally different. Government intervention in the domain of housing is firmly based on equity principles, which are often even enshrined in a country’s constitution. In contrast, while government involvement in the domain of transport is vast in all developed countries around the world, interventions with a concern for welfare are a form of charity rather than a form of equity.
The exceptional position of the transport domain is especially noteworthy, if one realizes that delivery of equity in each of the other domains depends on adequate transport services. Access to education and health care depends not only on regulations, institutions and subsidies, but also on physical access to schools and universities, to health clinics and hospitals. Likewise, and as acknowledged in various international treaties, adequate housing incorporates the notion of location and accessibility (see below). Thus, it could be argued that the ideal of the welfare state remains ‘incomplete’, as long as this ideal does not address the physical access to the goods it seeks to deliver to its citizens.
Given the comparable ‘equity challenge’ in the domain of housing and transport, we will now explore the equity principles that give direction to government’s involvement in the housing sector in more detail, in order to explore possible principle for the domain of transport.