Social Policy and Local Administration in Turkey

The lack of a central welfare strategy in Turkey has turned social support into a public relations tool for AKP through municipal activities.

In the last decade, Turkey has been praised for it’s economic performance along with China, India, and Brazil. Yet if ones gives a a closer look beyond macro economic indicators, the hard core facts portray a rather a bleak picture regarding a human development in such applauded country.

According to the IMF’s 2011 figures, Turkey ranks as the 17th biggest economy in the world. On the other hand, Turkey ranked 92nd in UNDP’s overall human development list, illustrating one of the highest disparities between economic size and human welfare in the world. These figures are solid enough to understand the prevailing inequality within the country and the inadequate policies of Justice and Development Party (AKP) leadership for a decade.

The lack of a welfare state in Turkey leaves many to the mercy of family, charities, or vicious labour market situations. In 2011, the government consolidated the social services by establishing the Ministry for Family and Social Policy. Ironically, it’s budget is one of the lowest among the ministries with 4.9 billion US dollar for 2012 -2.5% of 195 billion public budget. Taking into account the prevailing inequality and social exclusion level, it is far from being sufficient. Furthermore, poverty and social exclusion is compounded with territorial, gender and age-related disparities.

Local authorities, due to their closeness to the citizens are much more aware of the hardship experienced. Accordingly, they are providing various social services and support to the people in need. Increasingly, these provisions are increasin in terms of type and level. Hence, the role of municipalities are changing and making them a part of the nascent welfare regime in Turkey. Social provisions of the local authorities are not regulated by legislation. Thus the process of social support by local authorities turns social activity into a mechanism to expand electoral base; opening the way for feeding political patronage and using social services as a political tool rather than a administrative responsibility which needs to be exercised impartially. Unfortunately this has been a part of AKP’s core strategy in strengthening its electoral grip since a decade now.

The process of social support by local authorities turns social activity into a mechanism to expand electoral base; opening the way for feeding political patronage.

Moreover, the limited public budget is frequently used irrationally and has resulted in large of amounts of waste. Social policy, as any other policy area, has to be formed and exercised with careful planning and implementation. The current picture is rather different. Much of the social provisions and activities are perceived as a public relations instrument and consumed accordingly by AKP government.

In general, social policy is fairly new concept for the Turkish state and society. Turkish state is still far away to be called a real welfare state. However, the nascent welfare regime should be supported both from central and local levels. People with disabilities, women, elderly and poor people of Turkey deserve proper social solidarity channelled through the state rather than patchy and partial social provisions.

Local authorities are well placed to identify and address the needs and issues of people in need of social support. Losing time would put heavy ethical and political responsibility over the shoulder of decision-makers. Given the situation, a serious agenda has to be put forward for creating and implementing a local level regulation for the social provisions of municipalities and special provincial administrations.