Photo Hugues Siegenthaler © LIVES

People on social welfare are not necessarily lost to the job market

A team of researchers from the University of Lausanne assessed a pilot project in the Canton of Vaud and the City of Lausanne intended to better support marginalised jobseekers. Beneficiaries of the project were invited to a joint Unit of employment advisors and social workers. More of them left welfare through employment than those receiving social assistance alone.

Led by Professor Giuliano Bonoli, an evaluation carried out for the Canton of Vaud on the basis of an experiment carried out jointly with the City of Lausanne, confirmed an intuition that had already been developing for several years: a large proportion of people dependent on income support (Revenu d’insertion, RI) are able to return to work if they are better supported towards achieving this goal. This has a cost in terms of additional supervision, but this is offset by savings on financial benefits paid to beneficiaries.

To carry out this evaluation, Giuliano Bonoli, a social policy specialist at IDHEAP, enlisted the support of his colleagues Rafael Lalive, an economist at HEC, and Daniel Oesch, a sociologist at the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, all of whom are members of the same project (IP204) within the National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES. Three young researchers, Maurizio Bigotta, Lionel Cottier and Flavia Fossati, completed the team.

The pilot project being reviewed was launched in February 2015 with the support of the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO). It consists of a joint Unit created in the City of Lausanne to enable close coordination between advisors from the Regional Employment Centre (ORP) and social workers from the Regional Social Centre (CSR) responsible for delivering income support services. In this unit, which is still active, seven employment advisors deal with an average of 65 cases, half as many as in a traditional ORP, and are supported in their work by four social workers.

1,200 cases compared to a control group

The study covered the first 22 months of the experiment, during which new welfare applications were assigned to the joint unit every other day, while the remaining cases were routinely processed to form a control group. Nearly 1,200 people benefited from closer monitoring in terms of job seeking as part of the experiment.

The comparison between the two groups, using three databases, showed that "recipients supported by the Unit were more likely to leave income support for employment and had lower expenditure during the observation period," according to Professor Bonoli's report.

At the end of the observation period, 52% of the Unit's beneficiaries had found work, compared to 43% in the control group. These new jobs were also more stable for individuals who passed through the Unit: 70% of them did not re-enter unemployment during the study period, compared to 58% among the control group.

Cost/benefit ratio

These good results achieved a saving of 11% on the financial benefits paid to beneficiaries, resulting in an average monthly cost of CHF 107 less per month in the Unit than in the control group. This corresponds roughly to the additional cost of CHF 108 per month per beneficiary generated by the increased supervision from employment advisors in the Unit. The operation was therefore cost-neutral over 22 months.

The evaluation also shows that the Unit applied more sanctions against uncooperative persons than the CSR applied to the control group. According to the report, "the specialised literature is unanimous enough to identify the use of sanctions as an important lever for reintegration into the world of work".

Greater satisfaction

Based on a survey of some of the beneficiaries of both systems, the report indicates that more people in the Unit's care expressed greater satisfaction and were more likely to receive job offers than those from the control group.

The Unit's staff found the collaboration between employment advisors and social workers to be very positive. "Many were afraid of this forced marriage," explains Giuliano Bonoli. "This has made it possible to get rid of a lot of prejudices between the two professions," says Florent Grin, head of the joint Unit.

"One of the keys to success"

In their conclusions, the researchers mention that the results of the pilot project are consistent with similar experiments carried out in the United States and Germany. They feel that the high rate of supervision from employment advisors is "probably one of the keys to the success of the experiment", while suggesting that a slight reduction in this rate would be desirable to improve the cost/benefit ratio, especially since some employment advisors admitted to feeling not busy enough.

The researchers add that the social workers' supervision rate, on the other hand, could be increased in order to speed up support, or that otherwise social workers' expectations should be reduced.

A follow-up project

In this spirit, the report's authors recommend, among other things, that the Unit's action be limited to a more restricted duration. Analyses show that most jobseekers return to work during the first 14 to 16 months of support. "This group is not forever lost to the job market, but its opportunities are also limited by the same job market," said Giuliano Bonoli at a recent meeting with social workers at the Poverty Symposium in Lausanne.

The Canton of Vaud announced on the day of publication of the report that the project would be progressively extended throughout the canton.