The (changing) consideration of social investment in the design of welfare benefits: The case of poverty relief in Austria

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The social investment perspective has become a prominent topic in both social policy discussions and theoretical considerations regarding welfare state change. Empirical evidence on how this perspective has affected welfare state provision is much scarcer—and sometimes contradictory. This article aims to assess whether welfare state benefits increasingly have incorporated elements of social investment, and what has triggered the reforms made to the benefits. To achieve these aims, we examined two poverty relief benefits in Austria, namely, unemployment assistance and social assistance. We scrutinized changes made to
these benefits from 2000 onwards. To identify their (potentially changing) contributions towards social investment, we applied a framework that considers the economic aims of the paradigm (while neglecting other aims). According to this framework, a social investment benefit intends to improve the human capital of its recipients, enhance their employability, and/or enhance their employment integration. The findings suggest that the three elements of social investment were particularly relevant in reforming social assistance. However, the changes implemented were incoherent and do not support the hypothesis of an ever-increasing significance of social investment. The main triggers for reform were the political ideologies of (changing) governments. These ideologies determined the direction of changes made to both social assistance and unemployment assistance. If social investment thus ought to be more than just a theoretical concept or a nonbinding policy recommen dation, modifications made to welfare state benefits would need to follow a more coherent path. Regarding poor relief benefits, Austria has not pursued such a track (yet).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)573 - 588
JournalSocial Policy and Administration
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Austrian Classification of Fields of Science and Technology (ÖFOS)

  • 504003 Poverty and social exclusion
  • 509012 Social policy

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