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Should social welfare be universal or means-tested?

29 Jun 2016


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  • Title: Should social welfare be universal or means-tested?
  • Author(S): George Cautherley, Vice-Chairman, Hong Kong Democratic Foundation
  • Date: 18 Apr 2016
  • Publication: ejinsight

Should the provision of social welfare be universal or means-tested? For many people, this question may seem easy to answer and the reason clear for all to see. To many, welfare should be means-tested, because benefits should not be given to people who do not need them, that is, the rich and the well-off. According to this view, welfare should only be given to people who need them most, that is, the poor and the needy. Means-testing costs less in public resources and wastes less. For a given budget, universalism means less for the poor, while means-testing entails more for the poor. It appears that the case for means-testing is simple and cogent.

If the matter is really simple and clear-cut, then it is puzzling that, in a 2010 report, the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development advocated universalism for combating poverty and inequality.

What has been mistaken then?

Access full article here.

Download UNRISD flagship report "Combating Poverty and Inequality: Structural Change, Social Policy and Politics"