Welfare States and Public Opinion
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Welfare States and Public Opinion

Perceptions of Healthcare Systems, Family Policy and Benefits for the Unemployed and Poor in Europe

Claus Wendt, Monika Mischke and Michaela Pfeifer

Welfare States and Public Opinion comprises an informed inquiry into three fields of social policy – health policy, family policy, and unemployment benefits and social assistance. Though the analyses stem from research spanning fifteen countries across Europe, the conclusions can be applied to social policy problems in nations worldwide. Combining a detailed analysis of the institutional structure of social policy with the study of public attitudes toward healthcare, family policy, and benefits for the unemployed and poor, this book represents a new stream in public opinion research. The authors demonstrate that the institutional designs of social policies have a great impact on inequalities among social groups, and provide best practices for gaining public support for social policy reform.
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Chapter 5: Public Support for Unemployment Benefits and Social Assistance Schemes – Money for Nothing or Help in Dire Straits?

Claus Wendt, Monika Mischke and Michaela Pfeifer


Unemployment benefits and social assistance aim to provide an income in situations when individuals cannot make a living of their own. These benefits compensate for lost income between jobs, stabilize aggregate demand and prevent destitution. These transfers and other welfare state policies, such as pensions and taxation, are quite successful in reducing poverty, for example, by 60 percent on average in the OECD (Saunders 2010, p. 536). Despite this considerable poverty reduction, relative income poverty remains a serious problem, with 15.9 percent of households in the EU living on an income below 60 percent of the median in their country in 2005 (Eurostat 2010c). Singles and lone-parent families are especially at risk of poverty compared with households with two or more adults (Saunders 2010). Child poverty, with its far-reaching consequences on child development, also remains a serious issue, as in 2005, 19 percent of children in the EU lived in households with incomes below 60 percent of the median income (European Commission 2008). Therefore, unemployment benefits and social assistance, which combat poverty during working age and the phase of family formation, remain as important as ever. Today, both schemes are an integral part of the welfare state architecture in developed economies, and they have a long history. The necessity for unemployment insurance arose in the wake of the industrial revolution, which not only created a mass labor market but also produced economic crises with mass layoffs. Social assistance has an even longer tradition – as poverty relief organized locally by landlords,...

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