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TAKE : Reducing poverty through improving take up of social policies

Research project BR/154/A4/TAKE (Research action BR)

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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, those policies are confronted with non-take up of social help (NTU).

The main objective of the TAKE-project is to investigate NTU across Belgian public policy provisions. TAKE aims to make progress on three dimensions: 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 policy design and policy implementation in explaining take up behavior, aside from the costs that are usually treated in the empirical literature (for example: information, administrative, psychological and social costs involved in the demand for public allocation).

Further, 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.

Methodologically, the TAKE project makes use of a range of data sources and innovative research methods.

First, we will collect new survey data which allow for a proper investigation into NTU in Belgium. We will carry out a survey, which is expressly tailored to the needs of making an integrated in-depth study of the size, characteristics, causes and consequences of NTU of policy measures targeted at vulnerable groups. A sample will be drawn from administrative data available to the Crossroads Bank on Social Security (CBSS).

Second, for identifying NTU, one also needs a model which replicates the eligibility tests on the basis of the variables in the survey. The existing static tax-benefit microsimulation model MEFISTO will be extended and refined for doing so. MEFISTO has been developed in the framework of the IWT-SBO project ‘FLEMOSI: a tool for ex ante evaluation of socio-economic policies in Flanders’ (2010-2013) (see On the basis of the refined and extended MEFISTO model we will be able to identify in a first step NTU in the TAKE survey, such that we can study its characteristics, size, determinants and direct budgetary and social impact. In a second step, we will make use of MEFISTO to evaluate the impact of changing the eligibility tests in such a way that they would facilitate lower levels of NTU.

Third, TAKE will make use of a field experiment to test the effect of various triggers and encouragements on the uptake of the “Beneficiary of Increased Reimbursement” (BIR) statute within health insurance. Between 2015 and 2017 the Belgian sickness funds will organise a large scale campaign to stimulate the uptake of the BIR statute by persons for whom automatic enrolment is not possible. To this end, the Belgian tax administration have provided them with information on who of their members had an income below the BIR eligibility threshold. The sickness funds will invite these potential BIR beneficiaries for an income test between August 2015 and December 2017. As they are free to choose the way in which members are contacted (letter, e-mail, telephone call, home visit) the members will be exposed to various triggers aimed at fostering take-up of the BIR statute. This provides us with a unique opportunity to investigate the effect of various triggers on take-up of the BIR statute.

Fourth, in order to study the institutional context, we will develop TAKE_ISSOC (working title), i.e. a structured and searchable database which contains the details of eligibility tests of the social benefits covered by the project and how they are implemented in practice. In addition, TAKE_ISSOC will cover measures that public administrations currently take to reduce NTU, and current monitoring practices and their outcomes with regard to NTU. The TAKE project will gather similar information on Sweden and the United Kingdom in order to identify and assess good practices in two countries that have been generally recognised as frontrunners in the use of administrative data and actively monitoring and reducing NTU of social benefits. This should lead to the identification of possible best practices in monitoring and reducing NTU.

Fifth, TAKE will exploit existing administrative data collected by public agencies to investigate NTU of employment subsidies targeted at the low-skilled and other vulnerable groups in the period 2004-2013. Longitudinal administrative data from the National Social Security Office (NSSO) and from the National Employment Office (NEO) will be used for doing so.

Six, to better understand the reasons for NTU of employment subsidies, the existing survey on administrative charges will be used. This survey measures the costs of administrative charges related to employment legislation incurred by employers in Belgium. The TAKE survey will be able to gather valuable information on non-take up of wage subsidies by adding specific questions to this survey.

In summary, the TAKE project aims at making a significant contribution to (1) the theoretical underpinnings of research into NTU; (2) the available research infrastructure for studying NTU in Belgium; (3) insights into the characteristics, size, consequences and remedies for NTU; (4) an improved monitoring of NTU and knowledge exchange between the relevant actors in the field. TAKE attempts to make significant contributions not only to the international scientific literature and debate on NTU, but also to a better informed public debate and policy making process on NTU and how to improve access to redistributive policies.

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