Research team

Herman Deleeck Centre for Social Policy

Expertise

Over the past decades, welfare states coped with tremendous and ongoing challenges. Technological advances and globalization profoundly changed western economies and labour markets. Atypical labour contracts abounded. These include part time work and temporary contracts, but also work types where it has become unclear whether someone is self-employed or an employee. This evolution led to highly complex careers at the bottom of the labour market, where vulnerable employees combine different types of contracts and alternate employment and unemployment spells. Meanwhile, socio-demographic shifts and migration have led to less stable families and less homogenous societies. The society blueprint welfare states were built on, of stable families with a male breadwinner in full-time employment, is outdated. Against this background, I look into the potential of targeted benefits as effective social policy measures, taking account of different design options, their implementation and their effectiveness in terms of poverty reduction. Academically, this research scope adds to long-standing debates on the optimal design and effectiveness of social policies. This debate urgently needs tools to assess theoretical concepts and social policy design in terms of changeable real-life situations. Academic research usually adopts an annual perspective when assessing the effectiveness of social policy measures, averaging out fluctuations in income that may be felt hard in a context of intermittent employment and benefit spells. A well-considered assessment of how this perspective influences our findings and thinking on ideal social policy measures is warranted. It is for instance well-accepted that income-targeted benefits will decrease the financial gain when moving from benefits to employment, as these benefits are withdrawn when income from work becomes available. However, in a context of highly flexible careers at the bottom of the labour market, taking up employment will not solely depend on the expected financial gain, but also on expectations regarding the duration of the employment and the ease with which someone previously gained access to benefits. This experienced ease of access ultimately depends on the implementation of social policies. Building on information on careers at the bottom of the labour market obtained from administrative records, combined with a time-sensitive assessment of policies, I aim to develop tools to assess social policy effectiveness in light of such real-world experiences. For one, I look into the effectiveness of residual means-tested minimum income protection, that automatically became more relevant as the welfare state struggled to adapt to the broad trends described above. Second, I assess the responsiveness of targeted social policies in a context of unstable labour market careers. Third, I assess the implementation of targeted social policies, looking into the incentives policy makers at different implementation levels face. Are these incentives organised in such a way to guarantee smooth access to benefits on all policy levels?

SocialStudy on the impact of employment in the social economy on poverty and social exclusion 26/01/2022 - 25/01/2023

Abstract

Research into the poverty-reducing effect of the social economy in Flanders by means of a quantitative and qualitative method, gauging the consequences of social employment for the incomes and quality of life of those concerned.

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  • Research Project

Socioeconomic Inequality and Policy. 01/10/2021 - 30/09/2026

Abstract

The relation of targeting to social outcomes is a hot topic in social policy literature. This debate focuses on the relation between targeting and the redistribution achieved by the welfare state. Some argue that welfare provisions should disproportionally benefit lower incomes, efficiently achieving redistribution at a relatively low cost (Goodin & Le Grand, 1987), whereas other scholars have argued for the so-called "paradox of redistribution" (Korpi and Palme, 1998). Welfare states that target less, would achieve better redistributive outcomes, as more universal welfare states garner more support from middle class voters for larger social budgets. In recent years, doubts have risen on whether this paradox still holds (Brady & Bostic, 2015; Marx et al., 2016), re-opening the debate on optimal targeting design and effectiveness. A neglected issue so-far relates to the responsiveness of targeted policies in a context of flexible labour market careers. Over the past decades, atypical labour contracts have become more prevalent (Schoukens, 2020). Qualitative research has shown that this evolution led to highly complex careers at the bottom of the labour market, where vulnerable employees combine different types of contracts and alternate employment and unemployment spells (Hills, 2014; Trlifajová & Hurrle, 2019). In such a context, targeted social policies will have highly varying impacts on experienced hardship depending on the speed with which they react to changed circumstances. The responsiveness and accessibility of targeted policies is not only related to their institutional design, but also to their implementation. To the extent that policy makers aim for tailor-made targeted support, the implementation of targeted social policies may be devolved over different policy levels, often the national and the local level (Kazepov, 2010; De Wilde and Marchal, 2019). In such a context, policy makers at different levels may experience incentives that hamper the poverty reducing effectiveness of targeted social policies (Bonoli and Trein, 2016). In order to asses the potential of targeted benefits as effective social policy measures in a profoundly changed labour market context, it is necessary to take account of the interplay of different design options and their implementation, in terms of responsiveness and poverty-fighting effectiveness. Taken together, this research into the design, implementation and effectiveness of targeted policies, will ultimately feed into an exciting new research agenda on how welfare states as a whole can be adapted to a changed world.

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  • Research Project

The nexus between institutional design, implementation and outcomes of targeted social policies in a context of flexible work- and income patterns. 01/10/2021 - 30/09/2025

Abstract

This research project assesses the effectiveness of targeted social policy in a context of flexible and atypical work and income patterns. It takes account of the responsiveness of targeted social policies, and of the implementation challenges different types of targeted social policies represent. Specifically, this project will focus on three research questions: i) What impact does flexible and atypical employment have on income stability? ii) What are the implications of atypical employment for the design and organization of effective targeted social protection policies? iii) How do different forms of targeting relate to social outcomes?

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  • Research Project

COVIVAT - study into the impact of COVID 19 lockdown and social policy measures on the household income distribution 01/09/2021 - 30/09/2022

Abstract

COVIVAT assesses the consequences of the COVID-19 social distancing measures on the incomes of Belgian individuals and households. The aim is to generate insights that can support policy makers in limiting the social consequences of the COVID-19 crisis, and that may feed into post-Corona social policy.

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  • Research Project

A feasibility study into the development and use of an additional poverty indicator for Flanders 01/07/2021 - 30/06/2022

Abstract

We build further on the insights and recommendations of the VISA report, and investigate the feasibility of a "nominal poverty indicator". We develop a proposal on the possible construction of such an indicator, taking account of the quality criteria for valid and robust indicators, data availability and implementation potential.

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  • Research Project

Analysis of the (evolution of the) social situation with regard to the social targets and priorities of the national reform programme and the national social report 01/02/2021 - 31/01/2022

Abstract

This project will add to the annual reports on the evolution of the social situation and social protection in Belgium, by extending the instruments used, using policy indicators for a more timely assessment, also with regard to the COVID crisis, placing the reports and their findings in the broader literature, and listing key challenges.

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  • Research Project

A set of indicators to measure contextual factors and policy impact with regard to poverty in Flanders (Flemish indicator set poverty) 15/09/2019 - 14/03/2021

Abstract

VISA aims to develop a set of valid and robust policy input and outcome indicators to measure the impact of policy on poverty and social exclusion in Flanders. We will make recommendations regarding the data and policy models needed to further maintain and develop the VISA indicators in the future.

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  • Research Project

The effectiveness of social policy targeted at households with disabled children in Flanders: does the existing set of social policies succeed in reducing the poverty risk of disabled children? 01/04/2019 - 30/03/2020

Abstract

Families with disabled children combine both direct and indirect costs that likely have a negative impact on their poverty risk. First, they face higher direct costs due to the child's medical and care needs. Second, they face higher indirect costs as they need to provide more care which jeopardises the parents' engagement in the labour market. On top of that, families with disabled children often have a lower socioeconomic status than families without disabled children, increasing their poverty risk independent of having a disabled child. Many Western welfare states have implemented a set of benefits and services for families with disabled children to mitigate these direct and indirect costs. However, we lack insight in the actual effectiveness of these social policies in reaching this objective. Therefore, this research project aims to evaluate to what extent the existing set of social policies for families with disabled children in Flanders succeeds in reducing their poverty risk by increasing family income directly or indirectly. Specifically, the project will work on three related research strands. First, we will explore the non-take-up of social support for disabled children as this phenomenon can substantially impede the actual effectiveness of social policies. Second, we will look into the direct poverty reducing effect of the existing cash allowances for families with disabled children, in particular the supplemental child benefit. Finally, the indirect impact will be investigated via the causal effect of the presence of disabled children on parental employment. The budget requested within this BOF-KP project will be used to finance a data request with the Belgian Crossroads Bank for Social Security for the extension of an existing administrative dataset. Obtaining longitudinal employment information, information from the Ministry of Education and from the tax administration, will allow us to shed light on the three research strands. We will apply quantitative methods on this unique administrative dataset.

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  • Research Project

When do exogenous shocks trigger institutional change: minimum income protection in times of crisis. 01/10/2014 - 30/09/2016

Abstract

This project seeks to expand our knowledge on these first round crisis measures, and to assess their possible impact on subsequent policy measures and welfare state change. The project takes advantage of the research opportunity offered by the 2008 crisis.

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  • Research Project

When do exogenous shocks trigger institutional change: minimum income protection in times of crisis. 01/10/2012 - 30/09/2014

Abstract

This project seeks to expand our knowledge on these first round crisis measures, and to assess their possible impact on subsequent policy measures and welfare state change. The project takes advantage of the research opportunity offered by the 2008 crisis.

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  • Research Project

Is there a trade-off between providing adequate income protection and promoting selfsufficiency in social assistance schemes? On the optimal mix of empowerment, conditonality and sanctioning. 01/10/2011 - 30/09/2012

Abstract

This doctoral research aims to gain insight in the optimal policy mix of conditional measures and enabling policies (directed towards social assistance recipients) in order to promote the transition of social assistance to employment, while ensuring a decent level of protection. By doing so, it will contribute to answering the question of why some countries succeed in combining high minimum income protection levels with high levels of outflow from social assistance dependency and why Belgium is not among them. In other words, the central aim is to find out the role of conditionality in bringing social assistance recipients to work and enabling the social assistance scheme to provide adequate benefits.

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  • Research Project