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Exploring common ground for defining adequate social participation in 24 EU capital cities (CSB Working paper no. 19/12)

Working paper
Authors Otto Swedrup
Tim Goedemé
Tess Penne
Karel Van den Bosch
Bérénice Storms
Place of publication Antwerp, Belgium
Publication year 2019
Published at Department of Law
Language en
Subject categories European law, Administrative law, Public law, Sociology, Social welfare law


Without comparable benchmarks, the cross-national monitoring of the adequacy of minimum income schemes is impossible. However, it is not so straightforward to define what comparability means in this context, and how it should be operationalised. In this paper, we explore the possibility of a comparable benchmark for a minimum income starting from the concept of ‘adequate social participation’. At the minimum, comparability would require that people can have a broadly similar understanding of what adequate social participation means. Obviously, the financial resources that households require at the minimum for adequate social participation vary across time and space due to differences in climate and geographical context, institutional differences, culture and social expectations, as well as variations in the availability, quality and price of essential goods and services. Yet, without a common understanding of what ‘adequate social participation’ means at a more general level, a benchmark of ‘adequacy’ that is substantively comparable across countries remains highly elusive. Therefore, in this paper we explore to what extent there is a common understanding of ‘adequate social participation’ in terms of the essential social positions that one should be able to take, and in terms of the needs that should be satisfied to be able to fulfil in an adequate way the social roles associated with these positions. We embed our notion of adequate social participation in the literature on human needs. A large-scale project that involved country teams in all EU Member States, enabled us to develop a ‘core list’ of social positions, and to validate these as well as a list of intermediate needs across EU Member States using two sources. Formal social expectations have been explored in terms of commitments of Member States to international guidelines and regulations; informal social expectations regarding essential social positions and human needs have subsequently been assessed in three focus group discussions in each of 24 EU capital cities. Overall, the discussions in focus groups across the EU confirm there is quite some common ground with respect to what can be understood under the heading of adequate social participation in terms of essential social positions and needs that should be fulfilled. This provides support for efforts aimed at developing comparable benchmarks to assess the adequacy of social protection schemes.

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