WP 6 – The evolution of minimum income protection

By far the most vulnerable groups in all welfare states are the non-employed at working age: poverty rates for workless households are particularly high in all countries, especially when they rely on the lowest social safety nets. Access to adequate benefits is obviously an important factor when financial poverty is concerned. Relative to average wages and living standards, social assistance benefit levels have by and large eroded, be it less during the last decade than during the preceding period (Van Mechelen & Marchal 2012; Nelson, 2010). However, current minimum income protection indicators wrestle with some difficulties and shortcomings, such as assumptions with regard to housing costs and the omission of conditionalities from the evaluation of benefit adequacy.

The purpose of this work package is to extend and improve existing analyses of minimum income protection across the EU. We will use both model family simulations, an established technique in social policy research, and vignettes, a technique that is commonly applied in qualitative studies on perceptions, beliefs and attitudes (Barter and Reynolds, 2000; Saraceno, 2002). Vignettes are short stories about hypothetical characters in specified circumstances (for a recent example in social policy research, see Barberis et al., 2010). Here they will be designed in such a way so as to allow a comparison of the conditionality of social assistance benefits across EU countries.

Given the increased focus on in-work poverty and the need for flexicurity, we will also give particular attention to minimum income protection provisions for workers and we will explore options, in a range of EU countries, for improving these (including increasing minimum wages, in-work benefits, tax credits and various forms of subsidised employment).

Finally, we will investigate the linkage between the adequacy of minimum income protection and social cohesion trends. The adequacy of minimum income protection levels will be assessed using a relative poverty line (60% median equivalent income) as well as the reference budgets for social participation which are developed within the IMPROVE project.