Conference Agenda

RN26_01: Non- takeup of benefits or services
Wednesday, 21/Aug/2019:
11:00am - 12:30pm

Session Chair: Janne Paulsen Breimo, Nord University
Location: GM.328
Manchester Metropolitan University Building: Geoffrey Manton, Third Floor 4 Rosamond Street West Off Oxford Road


The Non-take-up of Welfare Benefits - A Strange Normality

Felix Wilke

German Statutory Pension, Germany

The non-take-up of social benefits has so far played a negligible role in social policy research. At first glance, this seems justified: Who would deliberately waive support to a considerable extent? In contrast, the few research projects conducted so far show that non-take-up is widespread in a range of means-tested welfare programs. These studies, however, have some limitations: First, they focus on means-tested programs. Second, they deal primarily with practical issues, like ‘How many people are eligible and yet do not claim benefits?‘ and ‘Why are benefits not claimed?‘. While revealing interesting empirical insights, they lack a thorough understanding of the phenomenon.

In my contribution I will develop a theoretical understanding of social policy that deals with the non-take-up of benefits as an integral part of social welfare. It analyses the phenomenon from a relational perspective between personal actions and institutional rules. Institutional rules are set by social rights that define certain standards of normality, to which individuals have to relate their actions. In contrast to a deficit-oriented approach, individuals are considered as carefully considering consequences of claiming benefits with regard to their living situation. Based on the theoretical analysis, it will be shown empirically with special focus on Germany: (1) that non-take-up is an integral part of welfare programs, way beyond means-tested programs; (2) that the extent of non-take-up depends on the relation between institutional normality standards and the individuals’ living situations; (3) which consequences high levels of non-take-up have for the legitimacy of the welfare state.

The empirical analysis will be based on a wide-range of existing non-take-up studies from different social policy realms and the European Social Survey from 2016.

Shifting Welfare Boundaries: Paradoxical Outcomes of Activation Policies

Emilie Rosenstein, Jean-Michel Bonvin

University of Geneva, Switzerland

Social policies rely on specific expectations vis­-à-­vis their beneficiaries, who have to abide by certain eligibility criteria or behavioral standards in order to deserve the benefits or services provided. As such, social policies draw boundaries between the deserving and undeserving, which results in the following paradox: while social policies claim to be universal, they actually exclude potential beneficiaries by imposing on them the compliance with these eligibility criteria and behavioral standards. In other words, purportedly universal social policies may have exclusionary effects, in the form either of selectivity (street­-level bureaucrats select what they perceive as legitimate beneficiaries) or of auto-­selection and non-­take-­up (people entitled do not claim benefits or services).

Based on the case of the Swiss disability insurance, this contribution explore the extent of, and the reasons underlying, this paradox (universal policies producing exclusionary effects) resulting from a universalistic approach to activation, esp. regarding vulnerable groups’ access to benefits and services. It relies on a mixed-­method research design, combining quantitative data (i.e. sequence analysis, showing the selectivity of active reforms regarding people’s access to disability benefits) and qualitative data (i.e. biographical interviews, revealing paradoxical outcomes of active reforms on the “sense of entitlement” of disabled people, towards auto-­selection and higher risk of non-­take-­up). The results presented draw on research conducted in the framework of the NCCR “LIVES – Overcoming Vulnerability: Life Course Perspectives” funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation.

Barriers in Accessing Services and Monetary Benefits – A Comparative Perspective With New Insights From a Study on the German Basic Safety Net

Ralf Maxime Lüth

University of Kassel, Germany

Means-tested basic safety nets have become integral to modern welfare states, providing a replacement income for those individuals lacking sufficient market incomes. While comparative welfare state research has focussed on the variance of services and benefits provided in different countries as to their adequacy and the groups that are covered by them, a new research agenda has emerged highlighting the actual access to services and benefits. In light of phenomena summarised under the term “non-take-up”, arguments are brought forward, that the impact of social policies is not sufficiently captured if researchers restrict their scope to differences in formal rules, regulations and stated rights – rather than studying problems and shortcomings in certain social policy fields empirically. Building on a study on the basic safety net in Germany, this presentation focusses on the barriers to taking up benefits and the ways in which a variety of mixed methods can be applied to shed light on these phenomena. The possibilities and challenges of comparing scope and structure of these phenomena in different European countries will be discussed. Conceptually access to these benefits is shaped by the intertwinement of state and non-state organisations, professionals and the (potential) service users themselves as well as institutions and norms beyond the specific subsystems. For instance attitudes (moderated by media depictions and peer groups) play a significant role in the formation of behaviour vis-à-vis the welfare state and should be taken into account when attempting to paint a fuller picture of the actual impact of different welfare states.