Quite a few social policies (e.g. social assistance) and cost-compensating measures (e.g. increased reimbursement of health care costs, heating allowances) are targeted at vulnerable socio-economic groups in general and low-income families in particular. Even though these measures aim at improving the living conditions of these groups, policies are confronted with non-take up (NTU). Despite the fact that already in the 1980s NTU has been designated one of the most serious problems facing social security systems, we still lack 1) a sound evidence base on the extent of NTU and its consequences; 2) proper understanding of its underlying mechanisms; and 3) empirical evidence on strategies to reduce NTU. This lacuna is unfortunate, because NTU undermines the effectiveness and social objectives of public policy initiatives. Further, while NTU may save public funds in the short run, this may not hold true in the longer run as e.g. investments in health prevention may reduce future costs of health care, if take up is adequate.
The main objective of the TAKE-project is to investigate NTU across Belgian public policy provisions. TAKE aims to make progress on all three dimensions on which we lack evidence: how big is the problem, how can it be explained, and how should policy be (re)designed in order to maximize take-up? In addition, the project aims at examining the consequences of NTU in terms of budgetary impact and equity and at identifying the possible best practices in monitoring NTU by public administrations.
For doing so, the project will adopt a broad perspective.
First, TAKE will adopt a multi-level explanatory framework. It will investigate factors affecting NTU at three levels: at the client level (e.g. age, educational level, number of children), at the level of policies (e.g. design of eligibility tests) and at the level of the administration (e.g. time consuming application procedures). Particular attention will be paid to the role of behavioural conditions at the level of the benefit scheme. Apart from the costs commonly assessed in the empirical literature (i.c. the informational, administrative, social and psychological costs involved in claiming public transfers), TAKE will also examine the impact of e.g. work availability requirements on participation in benefit programmes.
Second, TAKE will develop and apply a broad definition of NTU in which we make a distinction between explicit NTU and hidden NTU. Explicit NTU is the traditional form of NTU, i.e. not claiming the social rights one is entitled to (type-I error). Hidden NTU refers to the risk of actually not having legal access to social rights one should be entitled to given one’s standard of living (type-II error). By definition, targeted policy provisions impose some kind of condition for entitlement (e.g. a means test), and it could be the case that these very conditions exclude some people or companies who are actually targeted by said policy. Particular attention will be paid to 1) the role of behavioural conditions imposed on claimants (e.g. failing to comply to work availability requirements might have adverse consequences in terms of living standards, but is not a traditional form of NTU); and 2) the role of the access conditions built into the means-test (e.g. using one specific income threshold to define entitlement might favour small families over large families while the latter could be equally worse off in terms of living standards). Both forms of NTU will be included in our analytical framework and will be empirically explored.
Third, TAKE will adopt a multi-benefit approach. The focus of attention is on households with low incomes. TAKE will investigate how NTU in a variety of public goods and services affects their living standard, and how NTU can be reduced across public provisions. This project aims to jointly assess a wide variety of public provisions for citizens and companies: cash social assistance (both for the elderly and those at active age), cost compensatory benefits targeted at low income households (e.g. the ‘Beneficiary of Increased Reimbursement’(BIR) in health insurance, reduced tariffs for utilities and mobility), social services (e.g. debt counselling, labour market counselling) and employer wage subsidies targeted at the low-skilled.
To read more about our project’s methodology, click here.