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date: 01 July 2022

Abstract and Keywords

Social assistance guarantees basic social rights and provides means-tested, residual benefits to persons in need. It is the last safety net of the welfare state. The actual significance of social assistance varies by welfare regime: the more inclusive and generous a social security system, the less important usually is social assistance. In the Nordic countries, for example, with highly developed social security, few persons actually depend on social assistance. By contrast, in most countries with a liberal welfare regime, social assistance is an essential part of the welfare state. Yet in most cases, social assistance is not a viable alternative to inclusive social security. In Southern or Eastern European countries with rudimentary welfare states, social assistance is also patchy, exclusive, and rudimentary. In continental European countries, the situation varies by population group: most systems are more generous to the elderly than to families with children, and in particular to the unemployed. Moreover, in almost all countries social assistance benefits do not actually lift people out of poverty. Social assistance thus provides a basic minimum income for some groups, but does not effectively prevent poverty. In general, social assistance is more effective in countries in which it clearly operates as a last safety net within an otherwise well-developed overall social security system.

Keywords: social assistance, minimum income, safety net, social welfare, OECD countries, poverty prevention, means-tested benefits

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