Skip to main content Accessibility help

The Great Wake-Up Call? Social Citizenship and Minimum Income Provisions in Europe in Times of Crisis


When the 2008 crisis hit, social safety nets in Europe were not in the best of shape. This article examines what, if anything, governments did to adjust minimum income protection after two decades of relative neglect. In view of the hardship brought on by the crisis, this question is of importance in itself. In addition, there is a long-standing interest in the role crises play in re-shaping policies, possibly in a radical way. Building on purpose-collected data for twenty-four European countries, this article shows that many countries introduced supportive measures during the first years of the crisis, particularly in the form of additional benefit increases and more generous child benefits. Behavioural requirements imposed on minimum income recipients were not relaxed but in some countries activation efforts were intensified. Although the evidence shows that the crisis did trigger a response, there is little evidence for a structural change of course towards more adequate safety nets.

Hide All
Aurich, P. (2011), ‘Activating the unemployed – directions and divisions in Europe’, European Journal of Social Security, 13: 3, 294316.
Bahle, T., Hubl, V. and Pfeifer, M. (2011), The Last Safety Net: A Handbook of Minimum Income Protection in Europe, Bristol: Policy Press.
Bonoli, G. and Natali, D. (2012), ‘The politics of the “new” welfare states: analysing reforms in Western Europe', in Bonoli, G. and Natali, D. (eds.), The Politics of the New Welfare States, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 317.
Bradshaw, J. (2010), ‘An international perspective on child benefit packages', in Kamerman, S. B., Phipps, S. and Ben-Arieh, S. (eds.), From Child Welfare to Child Well-Being: An International Perspective on Knowledge in the Service of Policy Making, Dordrecht, Heidelberg, London, New York: Springer, pp. 293307.
Bradshaw, J. and Finch, N. (2002), A Comparison of Child Benefit Packages in 22 Countries, Research Report, Norwich: UK Department for Work and Pensions.
Cantillon, B., Van Mechelen, N., Marx, I. and Van den Bosch, K. (2004), The Evolution of Minimum Income Protection in 15 European Countries, 1992–2001, CSB-berichten, Antwerp: Herman Deleeck Centre for Social Policy, University of Antwerp.
Chung, H. and Thewissen, S. (2011), ‘Falling back on old habits? A comparison of the social and unemployment crisis reactive policy strategies in Germany, the UK and Sweden’, Social Policy and Administration, 45: 4, 354–70.
Clasen, J. and Clegg, D. (2007), ‘Levels and levers of conditionality: measuring change within welfare states', in Clasen, J. and Siegel, N. A. (eds.), Investigating Welfare State Change: The ‘Dependent Variable Problem' in Comparative Analysis, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, pp. 166–97.
Clasen, J. and Clegg, D. (eds.) (2011), Regulating the Risk of Unemployment, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Clasen, J., Clegg, D. and Kvist, J. (2012), European Labour Market Policies in (the) Crisis, European Trade Union Institute (ETUI), Working Paper WP 2012.12, Brussels: ETUI.
Dukelow, F. (2011), ‘Economic crisis and welfare retrenchment: comparing Irish policy responses in the 1970s and 1980s with the present’, Social Policy and Administration, 45: 4, 408–29.
Eardley, T., Bradshaw, J., Ditch, J., Gough, I. and Whiteford, P. (1996), Social Assistance in OECD Countries: Synthesis Report, Research Report, London: HSMO Department of Social Security.
Eichhorst, W. and Konle-Seidl, R. (2008), Contingent Convergence: A Comparative Analysis of Activation Policies, IZA Discussion Paper 3905, Bonn: IZA.
European Commission, (2008), Communication from the Commission to the European Council – A European Economic Recovery Plan, Brussels: European Commission.
European Commission, (2009), Economic Crisis in Europe: Causes, Consequences and Responses, Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities.
Farnsworth, K. and Irving, Z. (eds.) (2011), Social Policy in Challenging Times: Economic Crisis and Welfare Systems, Bristol: The Policy Press.
Frazer, H. and Marlier, E. (2009), Minimum Income Schemes Across EU Member States, Synthesis Report, Peer Review on Social Protection and Social Inclusion and Assessment in Social Inclusion, Brussels: European Commission DG Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities.
Gauthier, (2010), The Impact of the Economic Crisis on Family Policies in the European Union, Brussels: European Commission, DG Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities.
Gough, I. (2011), ‘From financial crisis to fiscal crisis', in Farnsworth, K. and Irving, Z. (eds), Social Policy in Challenging Times: Economic Crisis and Welfare Systems, Bristol: Policy Press, pp. 4964.
Hacker, J. S. (2002), The Divided Welfare State: The Battle over Public and Private Social Benefits in the United States, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hamburg, B., Momigliano, S., Manzke, B. and Siviero, S. (2010), ‘The reaction of fiscal policy to the crisis in Italy and Germany: are they really polar cases in the Euopean context?’, proceedings of the Public finance workshop: fiscal policy, lessons from the crisis, Banca d'Italia, Perugia.
Hay, C. and Wincott, D. (2012), The Political Economy of European Welfare Capitalism, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Hemerijck, A. (2012), ‘Stress-testing the new welfare state', in Bonoli, G. and Natali, D. (eds.), The Politics of the New Welfare State, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 6890.
Immervoll, H. (2012), ‘Minimum-income benefits in OECD countries: policy design, effectiveness and challenges', in Besharov, D. and Couch, K. (eds.), Counting the Poor: New Thinking About European Poverty Measures and Lessons for the United States, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 171210.
Immervoll, H. and Llena-Nozal, A. (2011), Social Policies for a Recovery, IZA Policy Paper 32, Bonn: IZA.
International Monetary Fund, (2010), ‘Exiting from crisis intervention policies’, Fiscal Affairs, Monetary and Capital markets, and Research Departments, IMF.
Jeene, M., van Oorschot, W. and Uunk, W. (forthcoming), ‘The dynamics of welfare opinions in changing economic, institutional and political contexts: an empirical analysis of Dutch deservingness opinions, 1975–2006’, Social Indicators Research, doi 10.1007/s11205-012-0230-6
Jenkins, S. P., Brandolini, A., Micklewright, J. and Nolan, B. (eds). (2013), The Great Recession and the Distribution of Household Income, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Kazepov, Y. (2010), Rescaling Social Policies towards Multilevel Governance in Europe Farnham: Ashgate.
Kenworthy, L. (2010), ‘Labour market activation', in Castles, F. G., Leibfried, S., Lewis, J., Obinger, H. and Pierson, C. (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of the Welfare State, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 435–47.
Kuipers, S. (2006), The Crisis Imperative, Amsterdan: Amsterdam University press.
Kvist, J. (2007), ‘Exploring diversity: measuring welfare state change with fuzzy-set methodology', in Clasen, J. and Siegel, N. A. (eds.), Investigating Welfare State Change: The Dependent Variable Problem in Comparative Analysis, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, pp. 198214.
Leibfried, S. (1992), ‘Towards a European welfare state? On integrating poverty regimes into the European Community', in Ferge, Z. and Kolberg, J. E. (eds.), Social Policy in a Changing Europe, Frankfurt am Main: Campus Verlag, pp. 245–79.
Marchal, S., Marx, I. and Van Mechelen, N. (2011), Do Europe's Minimum Income Schemes Provide Adequate Shelter against the Economic Crisis and How, If at All, Have Governments Responded?, IZA Discussion Paper 6264, Bonn: IZA.
Marshall, T. H. (1950), Class, Citizenship and Social Development, New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf.
Matsaganis, M. (2011), ‘The welfare state and the crisis: the case of Greece’, Journal of European Social Policy, 21: 5, 501–12.
MISSOC, (2009), ‘MISSOC Comparative Tables Database’,, downloaded 12.10.2012
Nelson, K. (2010), ‘Social assistance and minimum income benefits in old and new EU democracies’, International Journal of Social Welfare, 19: 367–78.
Nelson, K. (2013), ‘Social assistance and EU poverty thresholds 1990–2008: are European welfare systems providing just and fair protection against low income?’, European Sociological Review, 29: 386401.
OECD (2011), Doing Better for Families, OECD Publishing.
OECD (2012), Social spending during the crisis, Social expenditure (SOCX) data update 2012.
Pfeifer, M. (2009), ‘Public opinion on state responsibility for minimum income protection: a comparison of 14 European countries’, Acta Sociologica, 52: 2, 117–34.
Pierson, P. (1996), ‘The new politics of the welfare state’, World Politics, 48: 2, 143–79.
Pierson, P. (2000), ‘Increasing returns, path dependence, and the study of politics’, The American Political Science Review, 94: 2, 251–67.
Sawyer, M. (2012), ‘The tragedy of UK fiscal policy in the aftermath of the financial crisis’, Cambridge Journal of Economics, 36: 205–21.
Spilimbergo, A., Symansky, S., Blanchard, O. and Cottarelli, C. (2008), Fiscal Policy for the Crisis, IMF Staff Position note SPN/08/01, IMF.
Starke, P., Kaasch, A. and Van Hooren, F. (2013), The Welfare State as Crisis Manager. Explaining the Diversity of Policy Responses to Economic Crisis, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Streeck, W. and Thelen, K. (2005), ‘Introduction: institutional change in advanced political economies', in Streeck, W. and Thelen, K. (eds.), Beyond Continuity: Institutional Change in Advanced Political Economies, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 133.
Thelen, K. (2004), How Institutions Evolve: The Political Economy of Skills in Germany, Britain, the United States and Japan, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Van Mechelen, N. and Marchal, S. (2013), ‘Struggle for life: social assistance benefits, 1992–2009', in Marx, I. and Nelson, K. (eds.), Minimum Income Protection in Flux, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 2853.
Van Mechelen, N., Marchal, S., Goedemé, T., Marx, I. and Cantillon, B. (2011), The CSB Minimum Income Protection Indicators dataset (CSB-MIPI), CSB Working Paper, Antwerp: Herman Deleeck Centre for Social Policy.
Van Rie, T. and Marx, I. (2012), ‘The EU at work? The European employment strategy from crisis to crisis’, Journal of Common Market Studies, 50: 2, 128.
Vis, B., van Kersbergen, K. and Hylands, T. (2011), ‘To what extent did the financial crisis intensify the pressure to reform the welfare state?’, Social Policy and Administration, 45: 4, 338–53.
Weishaupt, T. (2013), ‘A common turn to activation?', in Marx, I. and Nelson, K. (eds), Minimum Income Protection in Flux, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 190216.
Yerkes, M. and van der Veen, R. (2011), ‘Crisis and welfare state change in the Netherlands’, Social Policy and Administration, 45: 4, 430–44.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of Social Policy
  • ISSN: 0047-2794
  • EISSN: 1469-7823
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-social-policy
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed