Project description

The COVID-19 pandemic once again demonstrated the vital role social security plays in safeguarding people’s livelihood in the face of major disruptive shocks. Yet preliminary analysis also suggests that some groups were not sufficiently covered. While the problem of inadequate social protection coverage became highly visible during the COVID19 disruption, it is part of a broader problem that developed welfare states need to confront head-on. 

Atypical employment, including parttime or fixed-term employment, is on the rise, while also hybrid forms of work have started to emerge, with individuals combining various forms of employment and self-employed activities. Labour law has been “adapted” to accommodate the demand for flexible work by new non-standard work forms. Meanwhile, social insurance is still to a large extent organised around a clear distinction between wage employment and self-employment and based on the figure of the stable full-time worker. This leads to important gaps in social insurance protections. As such, a reorganisation of contemporary social protection systems around new markers of vulnerability requires an integrated and interdisciplinary re-assessment of the way we organize solidarity, taking explicit account of legal possibilities, administrative feasibility and expected gains in terms of social outcomes.  

This project undertakes to do an in-depth investigation into these issues, with clear focus on the situation of the broad group of non-standard workers. Our ultimate objective is to offer viable pathways towards more adequate social protection for all. 

Project goals

The project covers the priorities listed under the #BEINCLUSIVE of pillar 3 (federal societal challenges) of the 2022-2023 BRAIN call of Belspo, Belgian Science Policy Office. In line with the call, we assess vulnerability among the active population at large, yet with a specific and explicit focus on the broad group of non-standard workers: self-employed; atypical employees such as parttime, fixed term or agency workers; those combining different jobs, or employment with a self-employed activity; and those in new work forms such as on-demand work that hover on the edge between employment and self-employment. We ask how the increasing relevance in legal non-standard work forms can and should be accommodated by a recalibration of social protection. We add further understanding of the association between background characteristics known to be related with inadequate social protection coverage (including ethnicity, education, family type, gender, and disability). In particular, we ask how the overrepresentation of women in specific types of non-standard work affects their individual vulnerability versus its effect on household’s living standards. 

This project will combine different disciplinary perspectives and methods to improve our understanding of the living standards and financial vulnerability of non-standard workers. Particularly innovative is that this project does not limit itself to empirical social policy and poverty analyses but that it takes an interdisciplinary perspective in fully taking the current legal framework into account and asking what the legal implications are of using different markers of vulnerability, so as to improve social protection. This approach guarantees research outputs that are not solely academically innovative, but also highly policy relevant.  

CHANGE will push forward recent innovations in the measurement of living standards, financial resilience and welfare state responsiveness. We will exploit existing survey and register data sources and we will gather new data on a broad and diverse group of non-standard workers, including different types of self-employed workers and atypical employees. This will enable us to understand the various (and often common) challenges they are confronted with, such as substandard coverage by social protection and fluctuating incomes. Hence, CHANGE will add to scholarly and wider societal debates on social policy design and effectiveness in a changing world of work. This project will produce insights relevant to all sections of society concerned with the consequences of economic, social and technological changes, particularly in the realms of poverty, financial vulnerability, social exclusion and social protection. The expected outcomes are particularly relevant for ongoing debates among social partners, civil society organizations and of course policy makers and administrations.

Project details

Timing: 2023 – 2027 

Funder: Belgian Federal Science Policy (Belspo / BRAIN-be) 

Coordination: Herman Deleeck Centre for Social Policy (CSB, University of Antwerp) 

Partner Institutions: the Centre for Public and Social Law (CDPS, Université Libre de Bruxelles) and the Centre for Sociological Research (CESO, KU Leuven)  

The CHANGE project is a partnership between researchers from different institutions. This allows for an interdisciplinary perspective. The CHANGE team is formed by:  ​

  • Prof. dr. Sarah Marchal, UAntwerpen (supervisor & coordinator)

  • Prof. dr. Ive Marx, UAntwerpen 

  • Dr. Julie Janssens, UAntwerpen  

  • Esmée Vanpoucke, UAntwerpen 

  • Prof. dr. Wim Van Lancker, KU Leuven (supervisor)  

  • Lien Steyaert, KU Leuven 

  • Prof. dr. Daniel Dumont, ULB (supervisor)  

  • Ninon Ramlot, ULB

  • Amaury Mechelynck, ULB