Social Support and Activation Policies for Families at Risk in Five European Countries

Research question/goal: 

The project studied employment and income of families at risk in five European welfare states with varying social and family policies: Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. The main research focus was on how policies interact in preventing or compensating social risks such as lack of employment, low work income and household poverty. The assumption was that employment integration is not sufficient to prevent poverty unless low wage employment and low family income are avoided.Families at risk were identified by joblessness or low work intensity and low work income with EU-SILC data for the year 2008. Household income was measured before and after social transfers. Policies were selected according to their impact on employment integration, work income and disposable household income, thus including activation and child care, collective wage bargaining and statutory minimum wages, family transfers and minimum income.The case-studies indicate that employment integration is effective only if additional policies improve work income at individual and household level. The Netherlands and Denmark were most successful in integrating families into employment and in preventing poverty among risk families. This was mainly achieved by avoiding low wage employment (Denmark) or by tax subsidies for low wage earners (Netherlands) as well as by universalistic social security. In contrast, targeted policies without effective inclusion are less successful as shown by Britain. Finally, policy combinations are ineffective when they are neither capable of preventing risks nor compensating these through targeted policies. In fact, Germany had deficiencies in lack of employment, low wages and insufficient transfers.The situation of families at risk thus depends on a combination of policies tailored to employment integration and minimum income, but its effectiveness further depends on the prevailing family-employment model. A dual-earner model with protection against low wages and a universal social security system is best-suited for families at risk.

Fact sheet

Hans Böckler Foundation
2009 to 2014
Data Sources: 
Policy analysis; Aggregate data; EU-SILC
Geographic Space: 
Germany, France, Great Britain, Denmark, the Netherlands



Bahle, Thomas, Bernhard Ebbinghaus and Claudia Göbel (2015): Familien am Rande der Erwerbsgesellschaft: Erwerbsrisiken und soziale Sicherung familiärer Risikogruppen im europäischen Vergleich. Baden-Baden: Nomos Edition Sigma. [Forschung aus der Hans-Böckler-Stiftung ; 177] more
Bahle, Thomas, Vanessa Hubl and Michaela Pfeifer (2011): The last safety net. A handbook of minimum income protection in Europe. Bristol: Policy Press. more