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Social welfare matters: a realist review of when, how, and why unemployment insurance impacts poverty and health

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Clare Bambra



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-ND).


The recent global recession and concurrent rise in job loss makes unemployment insurance (UI) increasingly important to smooth patterns of consumption and keep households from experiencing extreme material poverty. In this paper, we undertake a realist review to produce a critical understanding of how and why UI policies impact on poverty and health in different welfare state contexts between 2000 and 2013. We relied on literature and expert interviews to generate an initial theory and set of propositions about how UI might alleviate poverty and mental distress. We then systematically located and synthesized peer-review studies to glean supportive or contradictory evidence for our initial propositions. Poverty and psychological distress, among unemployed and even the employed, are impacted by generosity of UI in terms of eligibility, duration and wage replacement levels. Though unemployment benefits are not intended to compensate fully for a loss of earnings, generous UI programs can moderate harmful consequences of unemployment.

Publication metadata

Author(s): O'Campo P, Molnar A, Ng E, Renahy E, Mitchell C, Shankardass K, John A, Bambra C, Muntaner C

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Social Science & Medicine

Year: 2015

Volume: 132

Pages: 88-94

Print publication date: 01/05/2015

Online publication date: 14/03/2015

Acceptance date: 01/01/2015

Date deposited: 05/02/2017

ISSN (print): 0277-9536

ISSN (electronic): 1873-5347

Publisher: Elsevier


DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2015.03.025


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