Benefit dependency: The pros and cons of using “caseload” data for national and international comparisons


  • The authors thank Daniel Clegg, Irene Dingeldey, Marcel Hoogenboom and Jørgen Goul Andersen for valuable discussions on caseload data, and for the use of initial data collected for the countries featured in this article.

Addresses for correspondence: Johan De Deken, Lecturer at the Department of Sociology, University of Amsterdam, OZ-Achterburgwal 185, 2012 DK Amsterdam, Netherlands; Email: Jochen Clasen, Professor of Comparative Social Policy, School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh, 15a George Square, Edinburgh EH8 9LD, Scotland, United Kingdom; Email:


Policy-makers in advanced welfare states have increasingly expressed concerns over large numbers of working-age people claiming social security support. Accordingly, policies aimed at reducing the level of “benefit dependency” have gained prominence. However, such policies rest on shaky empirical evidence. Systematic collections of national “caseload” data are rare, social security programmes overlap and administrative categories vary over time. The internationally inconsistent treatment of national transfer programmes provides a further challenge for cross-national comparisons. This article first identifies and discusses several of these problems, and ways in which they may be addressed. It then employs administrative claimant data from six European countries as a way of illustrating trends over time and across countries. The underlying aim is to explore the scientific potential of benefit recipient numbers as an indicator for welfare state change over time and across countries.