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PhD research: Welfare benefits reduce criminal behaviour substantially

Receiving welfare benefits has a major impact on criminal behaviour. This has been demonstrated by Marco Stam, who defended his thesis on 20 January 2022.

Marco Stam

Welfare benefits provide a financial safety net against poverty in the absence of entitlement to other social security benefits. However, rising public expenditure in recent years has increasingly been met with the downsizing of many European welfare states, with reforms often focusing on welfare provision. Although welfare cuts are less electorally risky than cuts in other social security schemes, they can also be seen as weakening the income protection of the most vulnerable in society. While the effects of such reforms on economic outcomes are often studied, this is rarely the case for their effects on crime.

Marco Stam, PhD candidate at the Departments of Economics and Criminology, studied the relationship between social assistance benefits, labour participation and criminal behaviour. His multidisciplinary dissertation, comprising a collection of articles entitled ‘Essays on Welfare Benefits, Employment, and Crime’, combines insights from economic and criminological sciences, to investigate causal relationships between receiving welfare benefits, active labour market policy, labour participation, and crime. The four studies in the dissertation examine the multitude of unobserved factors that influence these outcomes by using variation in welfare and labour market policies, through the application of econometric techniques on large-scale microdata from Statistics Netherlands (CBS).

Income guarantee

The main finding from Stam's research is that receiving welfare benefits substantially reduces criminal behaviour through its minimum income guarantee. Additional analyses show that the introduction of additional conditions for eligibility for welfare benefits has caused an increase in crime. Conversely, welfare benefits-related activation policies can reduce crime if the leisure time of welfare recipients is restricted through compulsory participation in an activation programme.

Financially motivated crime (such as theft) among welfare recipients increases over the payment cycle, while other crimes peak immediately after payment. This suggests that welfare recipients experience serious financial constraints towards the end of the welfare month. Stam: 'Although further research is needed, our findings suggest that a more staggered payment of welfare benefits may reduce crime. However, as this would limit the financial autonomy of welfare recipients, the costs and benefits of such a policy change need to be considered thoroughly.’

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