Minimum income schemes have an important role in the overall architecture of social protection systems in Europe and other advanced economies. Commonly known as social assistance or as safety-nets, these schemes provide income protection for those in need and marginalised income groups. They are the most evident expression of societal commitment that all individuals are entitled to a dignified existence and that no one should experience unwanted need. Minimum income schemes are schemes that provide financial safety-nets for people with income below the national social minimum. Because of their subsidiary nature, minimum income schemes are only available for those who are no longer eligible for other forms of income protection. Unlike categorical social assistance, minimum income schemes are universal, hence they are not targeted to particular groups or social risks. And unlike social insurance which provides insurance-based protection against work-related and social risks, minimum income schemes are a non-contributory form of protection. This introductory chapter provides an overview of the minimum income schemes and the provisions of safety-nets across Europe. It examines the convergence and divergence of the provisions of minimum income schemes in countries such as Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, and the UK. The chapter also discusses the changes and the transformations that changed the mission and objectives of minimum income schemes in Europe. Among the causal factors are the debates on minimum income schemes across the Atlantic and the rise of unemployment between the 1980s and the 1990s. To fully understand the impact of activation on the role and nature of minimum income schemes, the chapter looks at how this has been implemented. It discusses the meaning of activation, the activation tools, and the activation of minimum income recipients. The chapter ends by outlining the concerns of the succeeding chapters.
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