Coping with non-take-up of means-tested benefits: a qualitative longitudinal study on single parents’ life courses in French-speaking Switzerland

Larenza, Ornella (2024) Coping with non-take-up of means-tested benefits: a qualitative longitudinal study on single parents’ life courses in French-speaking Switzerland. Zeitschrift für Sozialreform, 70 (1). pp. 79-99. ISSN 0514-2776

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Abstract

Many single parents (SPs) receive means-tested benefits (MTBs) in Switzerland. As a risk-management policy, MTBs can alleviate phases of financial hardship in SPs’ life courses. Conversely, when SPs experience non-take-up (NTU), MTBs may turn into a stressor and impinge on their lives. This paper investigates how NTU can shape SPs’ life courses. Thirteen SPs with full custody of their children who experienced NTU while facing economic hardship were interviewed in a qualitative panel in French-speaking Switzerland. A three-step analytical strategy involving thematic, categorical and chronological analysis of the qualitative data was conducted. The results show that SPs can compensate for the lack of MTBs by looking for alternative support from their families, friends and acquaintances or the labour market; by trying to bypass the MTB regulations so as to access them; by making changes to their lives to comply with MTB eligibility criteria or by giving up on the MTBs. NTU not only affects SPs financially but can also delay their professional careers, jeopardise their relationships with the children; delay new couple relationships and force them to live in an unpleasant environment. Intergroup inequalities affect SPs’ paths as MTB clients. By overlooking the implications of SPs’ childcare obligations and the hidden costs linked to separation, targeting practices may lead to tertiary NTU.

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