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Why has social security become less pro poor?


  • Bea Cantillon
  • Natascha Van Mechelen
  • Olivier Pintelon
  • Aaron Van den Heede


The present paper argues that we are witnessing an increase of the tensions between the three main goals of social security systems (poverty alleviation, securing living standards and prevention) and that, as a consequence, the poverty-reducing capacity of social transfers has come under pressure. The paper focuses on the working age population in 25 EU countries and on the good years before the crisis. Three different data sources are used: ECHP, its successor EU-SILC and the German SOEP. The paper augments the traditional pre-post approach by considering more direct policy indicators such as spending levels, observed average benefit levels and theoretical tax benefit packages and by focussing on the distinction between work-poor and work-rich households. We find that in many countries the relative decline in poverty reduction has primarily affected work-poor households. This observation is confirmed by more direct policy indicators. It may support the hypothesis that in many countries the poverty alleviation function of social protection has come under pressure as a consequence of a shift of attention towards preventing benefit dependency by recommodification on the one hand and ‘securing living standards’ for working families on the other hand.

Suggested Citation

  • Bea Cantillon & Natascha Van Mechelen & Olivier Pintelon & Aaron Van den Heede, 2013. "Why has social security become less pro poor?," ImPRovE Working Papers 13/05, Herman Deleeck Centre for Social Policy, University of Antwerp.
  • Handle: RePEc:hdl:improv:1305

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Thomas Leoni, 2015. "Welfare state adjustment to new social risks in the post-crisis scenario. A review with focus on the social investment perspective," WWWforEurope Working Papers series 89, WWWforEurope.

    More about this item


    Europe; welfare state; poverty; redistribution; work intensity; social exclusion;

    JEL classification:

    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
    • I38 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - Government Programs; Provision and Effects of Welfare Programs
    • O52 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economywide Country Studies - - - Europe

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