The study “Labour force potential in the social assistance scheme” is the most comprehensive study of this nature in Austria to date. The survey group consisted of recipients of social assistance benefits in the period 2000-2008.
This research project is special also because it connects and analyzes data from different sources (social assistance data, data of the Main Association of Austrian Social Security Institutions, support data of the Austrian Public Employment Service (AMS), data of the Vienna Employment Promotion Fund (waff)). In addition, more than 500 representative interviews with recipients of social assistance benefits and a detailed study with a qualitative focus were conducted.
These techniques made it possible, for the first time, to identify labour force potential, generate data on the effects of employment market policy interventions on social assistance benefits recipients, and gain detailed insights into pre-careers, problems and competences of the recipients. Key research results were already included in the preparatory work for the means-tested minimum income (BMS).
We noticed with concern that the people’s professional biographies are becoming increasingly vulnerable and that this vulnerability is reaching new groups. This means that good education and a presence on the employment market for many years are no longer a safeguard against falling down to the lowest step of the social ladder. We identified six patterns: loss of income stability due to sudden changes, downward spirals, precarious employment biographies, difficult job entries, long interruptions and chaotic employment biographies due to limited social resources. Breaks occur as a consequence of health problems, critical events such as divorce or death of the partner or the care-giving parent, or entrepreneurial risk. In other cases, poor starting conditions on the employment market due to a lack of resources lead to a dependence on social assistance benefits.
The risk profiles of recipients of social assistance benefits who are “capable of work” include people without useful education (45%), people with health constraints (41%), people with care and support duties (48%), and people with a low degree of work motivation (10%).
Our thesis is that these risk groups require different forms of specific assistance and support structures. The representative interviews show quite a clear picture which indicates that by far the largest part of the social assistance benefits recipients wishes to find work and become economically independent in spite of the burdens they have to face. However, many of these social assistance benefits recipients are confronted with multiple problems that counteract their job readiness. This situation requires a special approach for the support and assistance of social assistance benefits recipients, including offering forms of coaching that are able to tackle a variety of problem profiles step by step.
It also became clear that social assistance benefits recipients have a great demand for professional (further) education and completed trainings. At the same time it was shown that in many cases social assistance benefits recipients have only limited access to individualised employment and training programmes although they have great interest in participating in supporting offers.
This being the situation, it is not surprising that the simple integration of social assistance benefits recipients into activating measures (which are primarily designed for the target group of job-ready people) shows only limited success. The often criticised “work first approach” may not be unsuitable for all recipients of social assistance benefits, considering that also the study at hand has identified a – small – group of recipients without a particular problematic profile and with good placement chances. In the case of social assistance benefits recipients with multiple problems in situations of permanent unemployment, however, step-by-step multidimensional support offers will have the best chances at medium- or long-term integration success. If this aspect is not taken into consideration, there is a risk that due to recurring and unsolved burdens (think of single parents, caregivers, health) social assistance benefits recipients repeatedly go back and forth between being a social assistance benefits recipient and an independent person who earns their own living (the so-called revolving doors effect).
In addition to the above-mentioned clarification and support by means of personal coaching, we consider individual and tailor-made education offers combined with a work-integrative instrument to be the central elements of this offer. On the one hand, this aims at the concept “work & learning”, which is the focus of the aided employment programme, as it is just this concept that has shown above-average success according to the study’s impact evaluation. On the other hand the study results show that the “work & learning” programme does not per se have to be designed as a third-sector offer: integration support measures have enabled the employment market integration of social assistance benefits recipients far above average. This instrument has only been surpassed by a combination of (further) education and subsequent integration support measures; and this is also one form of “work & learning”, even if the connection between the two components has to be established (and, in our view, this is the job of coaching).
This study was designed by the Municipality of Vienna (Municipal department 24 – Health and Social Planning, Municipal department 40 – Social Matters, Social and Health law, Vienna Employment Promotion Fund (waff)) and the Vienna Public Employment Service (AMS) and carried out by L&R Social Research in cooperation with FORBA.
The study report can be requested free of charge by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively it can be downloaded at http://www.wien.gv.at/gesundheit/einrichtungen/planung/index.html.
Team: Andreas Riesenfelder, Susanne Schmatz, Manfred Krenn
Client: MA24, MA40, waff andAMS Wien