Current debates among social scientists and policy makers focus on the question of how the social security system should be reformed in order to reduce poverty and inequality the most efficiently. A central question in this debate with regards to social policy reform is whether emphasis should be put on means-tested or universal benefits. The effectiveness of the means-tested benefits in reducing poverty, particularly in transitional economies, is given special consideration. Studies on poverty and inequality in different welfare state regimes indicate that in countries, where the universal benefits are predominant, poverty and inequality are lower compared to those countries, where the means-tested benefits occupy a significant part in the social security system. However, the previous comparative studies that have focused on the effectiveness of the means-tested benefits have concentrated mainly on 18 rich OECD countries and have ignored others that do not belong to this bloc. This created a theoretical and empirical gap that needs to be filled by new comparative research.
Thus, in a broader sense, this project attempts to take one step towards filling this gap by including the analysis of countries that have never before been analysed in comparative welfare state research. First, Ukraine sometimes referred as a land of economic insecurity that goes through major political and economic changes. Second, Lithuania, one of the countries that has recently joined the European Union, and because of its experience as a socialist regime has never before been included in welfare state theorising and, finally, Sweden, the most developed among industrialized countries and the most over-researched welfare state.
In a narrow sense, this study will look to examine one of the fields of social security, namely, means-tested benefits in cash and in kind. The aim of this project is to assess the role and impact of the means-tested benefits on the well being of the welfare recipients in the countries above. The impact will be measured relying on objective (aggregate level statistics) and subjective (recipients’ views and perceptions of their situation) indicators.