Poverty & Income Distribution

Coordinators: Prof. Dr. Bea Cantillon, Prof. Dr. Ive Marx and Prof. Dr. Koen Decancq


Issues of poverty and income inequality belong to the Centre’s core research activity of. Based on large scale surveys among households in Belgium and other welfare democracies, the Centre aims to follow up and interpret the size, composition and causes of poverty and social inequalities, keeping differential policy impact in mind. Next to this inter-temporal and international comparative research, the centre also seeks to acquire insights into the problematic character of poverty and income inequality in rich welfare states.



The crisis and reorientation of European welfare states since the 1970s: what consequences for income distribution, financial poverty and social exclusion?


Duration: 01/01/2008 – 31/12/2014
Funding: Special Research Fund (Methusalem), Antwerp University
Promoters: Bea Cantillon & Jef Breda

This project represents the research commitment that the Centre for Social Policy took up in the framework of its Methusalem funding. The project lays down the substantive framework for the Centre’s research activities from 2008 till 2014. It pins down the big research questions and defines the lines of research. In the coming years the Centre aims to gain insight into i) the way in which the generosity and adequacy of social protection systems have evolved in the course of the last three decades (in Belgium and other rich welfare states), ii) the way in which financial poverty and income inequality have evolved in the same period and iii) the relationship between poverty and income inequality on the one hand and other forms of social segmentation on the other hand. To address these questions the project sets out four lines of research: i) mapping of income inequality (and its composition) since 1970, ii) the generosity and adequacy of social protection systems (related to employment, redistribution and policy), iii) the effect of social transfers on poverty and income inequality, iv) the problematic side of income inequality.



STEUNPUNT VLAS – Vlaams Armoedesteunpunt

Launch: 01/01/2012
Funding: Flemish Government
Promoters: Bea Cantillon & Natascha Van Mechelen
Researcher: Bérénice Storms

The Flemish Poverty Support Centre (VLAS) does research on poverty and social exclusion in Flanders: among others, VLAS focuses on their genesis, perpetuation and features. The multi-dimensional character of poverty and social exclusion results in a whole range of research topics: statistics, survival strategies, mechanisms causing exclusion and poverty eradication policy. Qualitative and quantitative research reinforce each other. Fundamental and applied research alternate. VLAS is a scientific consortium of five partners. The Herman Deleeck Centre for Social Policy is in charge of the part on reference budgets. For a few years, reference budgets have been developed to determine how much income a household minimally needs to participate in society in dignity. A reference budget consists of different baskets of goods that are considered necessary. For each basket item a price is set; the addition of all these prices forms the total budget. In this way, taking into account a household type a minimum income can be fixed. For the purposes of scientific research on poverty measurement as well as in research on the adequacy of minimum income policies reference budgets prove to be valuable yard sticks. Reference budgets research in the framework of VLAS aims to evaluate the adequacy of income protection and policy eradication policies.



Second Network for the Analysis of EU-SILC (Net-SILC2) – Work Package: WP CO&ME-VARIANCE: Standard errors and related sampling issues


Duration: 01/07/2011 – 30/06/2015
Funding: Flemish Government
Partners: STATEC, Luxembourg Income Study (LIS), Herman Deleeck Centre for Social Policy, University of Southampton
Researcher: Tim Goedemé


Variance estimation for EU-SILC is confronted with several challenges: complex sample designs, including rotational panels, limited information on the sampling design, complex non-linear and longitudinal indicators, and differing methods of imputation across countries. This WP will focus on the computation of standard errors for various poverty and social exclusion indicators (especially the new Europe 2020 "At-Risk-of-Poverty-and-Social-Exclusion" target indicators and the main OMC indicators) as well as related sampling issues. Over the past few years, major steps have been made in the area of variance estimation of EU-SILC based indicators. In this WP, we bring this knowledge together in a practical handbook with a concrete set of recommendations for both data producers and data users. A first draft of recommendations will be discussed at a thematic workshop, which will be organised early 2012. The workshop will include participants from both NSIs and academics. The exact format will be discussed in advance with Eurostat and the Net-SILC2 coordinator. The workshop presentations, discussions and conclusions will be summarised in the handbook following a “solution-oriented perspective”. The handbook will provide: a) recommendations concerning the concrete implementation procedures for computing standard errors from both an NSI and a UDB perspective; b) concrete recommendations for better recording sampling design variables (adequate documentation and metadata). User-friendly commands to calculate standard errors will be developed and documented.



Scientific input poverty test


Duration: 21/09/2011 – 31/12/2011

Funding: Flemish Government
Promoter: Natascha Van Mechelen
Researcher: Pieter Vandenbroucke


This project provides scientific input for a pilot project regarding a poverty test related to the Flemish Decree on social protection – for the part on child allowances. It was carried out as agreed by the cabinets of the Flemish Ministers Lieten and Vandeurzen as well as the administration in charge.



Inequality: quantifying, sources and redistribution


Duration: 21/09/2011 - 31/12/2011
Funding: Special Research Fund, Antwerp University
Promoter: Koen Decancq

This project focuses on three research questions. First, it will study the measurement of inequality. Building on earlier work on the measurement of multidimensional inequality, we see important research spill-overs to the measurement of multidimensional poverty and multi-period social mobility. Second, we investigate the sources of inequality in Belgium and the world. The main idea is to construct counterfactual distributions that result from the change of demographic or policy parameters. The third line of research involves a study of optimal redistributive policies. In particular the project is interested in the role of civil society in the formation of the societal willingness to redistribute and in crystallizing the implicit social preferences in Belgium’s current taxation system.



The redistributive capacity of the innovating welfare state: a comparative evaluation of Sweden, The Netherlands and Belgium.


Duration: 01/01/2011 – 31/12/2014
Funding: Flemish Research Foundation (FWO Vlaanderen)
Promoters: Bea Cantillon & Joris Ghysels
Researcher: Wim Van Lancker


Historically, welfare states emerged to guarantee fair life conditions to all and to do so, protected the full population against the adverse consequences of “social risks” such as illness, unemployment and disability. However, society has changed over time and “new” social risks (NSRs) emerged, such as the inability to reconcile paid work and care. Accordingly, welfare states developed new social policies. This research project aims to assess these adjustments in three welfare states (Belgium/Flanders, Sweden and the Netherlands) in a European comparative perspective, with the work-family conflict as a case in point. Since inequality is on the rise again in Europe, the overarching research question concerns the role of NSR policies in the redistributive capacity of welfare states. The question “who profits the most from social policies and is this distribution efficient?” is rarely subject of investigation but is of uttermost importance in the light of social policymaking subject to budgetary constraints and shifting priorities due to – for instance – population ageing. The project is innovative as it sheds new light on coverage for NSRs, fuels the theoretical debate on the mechanisms underlying welfare state redistribution and opens the way for policy innovation concerning a more equalizing distributional agenda.



Putting the social investment state to the test. Assessing the impact of Dutch and Belgian policy adjustments on poverty and social inequality.

Duration: 01/10/2010 – 30/09/2012
Funding: Flemish Research Foundation (FWO Vlaanderen)
Promoters: Bea Cantillon & Karel Van den Bosch
Researcher: Olivier Pintelon

Facing permanent austerity, several European welfare states reinvented themselves as “social investment states” (Giddens, 1998): shifting in focus from providing “passive” income protection towards increased labour market participation and investing in people's skills. This project focuses on the relationship between the social investment state and poverty/social inequality. Although several policy documents assume a natural symbiosis between labour market participation and poverty reduction, a few studies suggest that this relationship is far more ambiguous. To answer this question, the effects of Dutch and Belgian social policies are investigated. The Netherlands and Belgium are 'most similar cases': both countries are very similar (small open transit economies), except for their broad policy reorientations. In the Netherlands there was an increased focus on active labour market policies, while Belgian policy adjustments were small and incremental. This project is divided into three distinct phases. First of all, the evolution of poverty and income inequality are described for a long period of time. Secondly, policy and resource indicators are used and collected in order to provide an overview of major social policy adjustments. Finally, these indicators are used to estimate the redistributive effects of social policy, with a special focus on so-called “risk households”.



In search of an equilibrium in the new welfare state: a dynamic system comparison in five leading countries in Europe and their performances regarding older and new social risks


Duration: 01/09/2010 - 31/12/2012
Funding: Foundation Institute GAK
Promoter: Bea Cantillon
Researcher: Natascha Van Mechelen


As a response to changing environmental factors in the course of the past decennia the national welfare state in Europe has undergone fundamental changes. Essentially, a transition occurred from a social model with a primary focus on passive income protection and ex-post compensation to a so-called social investment state in which the focus shifted to “investing” in the economic resilience of citizens. As a consequence of this evolution the welfare state now faces a tension between the old ideals of ex post combating of poverty and income redistribution and the new ideal of ex ante social investment. Hence, the question arises which implications this transition has had in terms of social outcomes. This research project aims to contribute to a better understanding of the content and the outcomes of these “new welfare states”. It first seeks to gain a better insight into the relationship between the shift to the investment state on the one hand and the evolution of poverty and inequalities on the other hand. Second, this project aims to discover if and why one country has possibly been more successful in terms of outcome (of poverty and social inequality) than another.



Welfare, income distribution and poverty in Flanders in an international perspective.


Duration: 19/08/2010 – 30/06/2011
Funding: Studiedienst Vlaamse Regering
Promoters: Karel Van den Bosch, Bea Cantillon & Ive Marx
Researchers: Jeroen Horemans, Pieter Vandenbroucke, Wim Van Lancker


This project aimed to contribute to the book and research programme “Social State of Flanders 2011”. It aimed to diagnose and explain income and income distribution of the Flemish population as compared to the population in Wallonia and the socio-economically leading EU member states. The causes for the income (distribution) in Flanders were located in four circuits: age and household formation, employment and the labour market, social protection and housing. Finally, the question was addressed what Flanders can learn from Europe.



GINI - Growing Inequalities Impacts.

Duration: 01/02/2010 – 31/01/2013
Funding: European Commission, Seventh Framework Programme
Promoter(s): Ive Marx, Bea Cantillon & Gerlinde Verbist
Researcher(s): Tim Van Rie


The project examines inequalities in income/wealth and education and their social/political/cultural impacts. It combines an integrated interdisciplinary approach, improved methodologies, an improved understanding of inequality (bottom/middle/top and the very top), wide country coverage, a clear policy dimension and broad dissemination. The project exploits differences between and within countries in inequality levels and trends to understand impacts and tease out implications for policy and institutions. It highlights potential effects of individual distributional positions and increasing inequality for a host of ‘bad outcomes’ (societal and individual) and allows feedback from impacts to inequality in a frame of policy-oriented debate and comparison across 25 EU countries, USA, Japan, Canada and Australia. The project also focuses on costs and benefits of limiting income inequality and its efficiency for mitigating other inequalities (health, housing, education and opportunity). The ultimate aim is to consider the overall impact of changing inequalities on societies for the longer term and discuss whether agenda setting in politics may undergo structural change.

Social cohesion indicators for the Flemish region. The development of comprehensive social cohesion indicators at the local level in Flanders.

Duration: 01/01/2007 – 31/12/2011
Funding: SBO Strategic Basic Research
Promoter: Bea Cantillon
Researchers: Sarah Carpentier


The strategic goal of this project was to develop a coherent framework for the development of social cohesion indicators in Flanders. While in the past decade, enormous amounts of statistical material have been assembled in Flanders, never before these various data sets (crime, fear of crime, use of social security, income, social participation, local government expenditures) have been brought together in one coherent data collection, that can be used by a wide array of social actors. This project assembled such a data set, by bringing together some of the best research teams in Flanders, each of them with a long track record in their field (resp., criminology, social security, participation and local government expenditure). In a second phase of this project, additional data were collected by conducting a representative survey of the Flemish population, with an oversampling of theoretically relevant communities.



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