Labour Markets, Institutions and Inequality

Labour Markets, Institutions and Inequality

Building Just Societies in the 21st Century

Edited by Janine Berg

Labour market institutions, including collective bargaining, the regulation of employment contracts and social protection policies, are instrumental for improving the well-being of workers, their families and society. In many countries, these institutions have been eroded, whilst in other countries they do not exist at all.

Chapter 10: Income support for the unemployed and the poor

Janine Berg

Subjects: development studies, development economics, economics and finance, development economics, labour economics, social policy and sociology, labour policy


Income support for the unemployed and the poor, which includes the different types of unemployment benefit systems as well as a myriad of policies to support the poor, is controversial, with debates on design and impact as great today as when the programmes were first instituted over a century ago. The policies are pillars of a social protection system as they mitigate the risk of job loss – an endemic feature of capitalist society – as well as attend to the unmet basic needs of households who are unable to find work or who do not earn enough from work to support themselves and their families. As the focus of this chapter is on social protection policies for ‘able-bodied’ persons, it differs from the previous chapter, which analysed social protection policies for persons who were no longer working, either as a result of retirement, disability or illness. Providing income support to the ‘able-bodied’ is a much more contentious issue than providing for those who are no longer able to work. It was typically the last of social policies to be adopted and continues to be the source of debate, with great effort and funds spent on monitoring the unemployed to ensure that they are looking for work, and for the poor, on ensuring that they are both without means and deserving.

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