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Asset-based Welfare

Area: Policy and financing

In Europe, increasingly longevity is driving the trend towards an ageing population . Furthermore, at a global level, average life expectancy has increased over the last fifty years from 58.6 years in 1970 to 72.7 years in 2019 (World Bank, 2021), and could reach 76,6 years by 2050 (Statista, 2021). In the literature reviewed, “older people“ are described as the population aged 65 and over (Harper et al., 2016; Johnson, 2015). A recent UK study (Harper et al., 2016) found that the average age of the UK population exceeds 40 years for the first time in history. The same study predicts the working age group of older people, which makes up the population aged 50-66, will increase from 26% in 2012 to 34% in 2050, an increase of 5.5 million people.

However, longevity is not usually accompanied by an understanding of the quality of living. The increase in the elderly population is overwhelming the health care system of the modern welfare state. The elderly are becoming more dependent on health services, while the support of younger generations is decreasing due to their increased occupational mobility and different lifestyles (Bađun & Krišto, 2021).

Asset-based welfare could be defined as a set of policies and measures that address and promote individual wealth accumulation over the course of our lives in order to reduce an individual's dependence on the pension system through the consumption of that asset (Lennartz & Ronald, 2016). There could be many forms of asset-based welfare, and it should be oriented toward the local context. For example, asset-based welfare is embedded in the housing market in Japan, Singapore and South Korea (Doling et al., 2013); (Oh & Yoon, 2019). Retirees in the US or the UK are more likely to finance a reverse mortgage, while retirees in post-socialist countries are more likely to enter into care exchange contracts or an intergenerational transfer.

In the post-socialist countries of Eastern Europe, most pensioners are homeowners who have high assets and low monthly income (Kunovac, 2020). For pensioners who became homeowners during their working years, there are a few ways to use their homes in order to secure a higher standard of living in retirement. There are two main scenarios for using your assets to increase the standard of living: one is to move out of the current home, either by downsizing or selling it; the other does not require moving and usually involves renting part of the home or entering into a financial transaction such as a reverse mortgage or insurance contract (Bađun & Krišto, 2021). Both scenarios represent asset-based welfare, as assets (rather than income) are used to increase well-being. In the past, asset-based welfare used to be practised in traditional rural communities when elderly people without successors contracted with their neighbours to provide for them in exchange for their family assets.

The European financial market for asset-based welfare is at an early stage of development and is only available to a limited extent in the UK, Spain, France and Germany (Bađun & Krišto, 2021). In other countries, there are different forms of transaction in play. For example, according to a survey carried out by the European Commission, 86% of the Croatians prefer to take care of their parents, rather than having their parents sell their property to increase their income (Bađun & Krišto, 2021).  Similar results could be found in other post-socialist countries with a high level of “familialism”, i.e., intergenerational living with strong family ties (Eggers et al., 2020; Sendi et al., 2019; Stephens et al., 2015) , and homeownership, where the idea of “consuming” the equity to pay for old-age care is unpopular. According to (Kerbler & Kolar, 2018), the Slovenian pensioner, even if starving, would rather not sell or mortgage their homes, while according to Sendi et al., (2019) pensioners in Slovenia “strongly reject all equity release products”.

A potential model of asset-based welfare that could be implemented in Croatia was presented in 2015 in the policy document “Social picture of the City of Zagreb” (CERANEO, 2016). This model would represent an innovation in social welfare by creating an institutional support for a contract through which the assets would be transferred to the city after the death of the person and in return the city would provide care for the elderly. This contract would ensure adequate care for the elderly and provide the city with a housing stock for public or social rental. In addition, this type of contract would be a viable alternative to the current practise of doing business under a "lifetime support contract" or a "support contract until death". In 2021, 1,300 such contracts were concluded, but in practice this is not well regulated (Annual report of the Ombudswoman of the Republic of Croatia, 2021). There have been cases of contracts between only one individual providing services to tens of benefactors. Many of these contracts end up contested by the surviving family in court, making this type of transaction risky (CERANEO, 2016).


Bađun, M., & Krišto, J. (2021). Financial Industry Views on the Prospective Role of Long-Term Care Insurance and Reverse Mortgages in Financing Long-Term Care in Croatia. Journal of Aging and Social Policy, 33(6), 673–691.

Doling, J., Elsinga, M., Dol, K., Hegedüs, J., Horsewood, N., Quilgars, D., Ronald, R., Szemzo, H., Teller, N., & Toussaint, J. (2013). Demographic change and housing wealth: Homeowners, pensions and asset-based welfare in Europe. Demographic Change and Housing Wealth: Homeowners, Pensions and Asset-Based Welfare in Europe, 9789400743847, 1–161.

Eggers, T., Grages, C., Pfau-Effinger, B., & Och, R. (2020). Re-conceptualising the relationship between de-familialisation and familialisation and the implications for gender equality – the case of long-term care policies for older people. Ageing & Society, 40(4), 869–895.

Johnson, S. (2015). How are work requirements and environments evolving and what will be the impact of this on individuals who will reach 65 in 2025 and 2040?, UK Government office for Science

Kerbler, B., & Kolar, B. (2018). Housing for Younger and Older Populations. Housing.

Kunovac, M. (2020) Distribution of household assets in Croatia, Public Sector Economics, Vol. 44 No. 3, 2020.

Lennartz, C., & Ronald, R. (2016). Asset-based Welfare and Social Investment: Competing, Compatible, or Complementary Social Policy Strategies for the New Welfare State? Asset-based Welfare and Social Investment: Competing, Compatible, or Complementary Social Policy Strategies for the New Welfare State?, Housing, Theory and Society, vol. 34, 2017

Oh, F. D., & Yoon, H. (2019). The Role of Chonsei as a Price Protector in the Korean Housing Market. Https://Doi.Org/10.1080/10168737.2019.1570300, 33(1), 27–41.

Sendi, R., Filipovič Hrast, M., & Kerbler, B. (2019). Asset-based welfare: Is housing equity release a viable option for pensioners in Slovenia. Journal of European Social Policy, 29(4), 577–589.

Stephens, M., Lux, M., & Sunega, P. (2015). Post-Socialist Housing Systems in Europe: Housing Welfare Regimes by Default? Https://Doi.Org/10.1080/02673037.2015.1013090, 30(8), 1210–1234.

Statista. (2021). Projected global life expectancy 2100. Retrieved March 16, 2022, from

World Bank. (2021.). Life expectancy at birth, total (years). Retrieved March 16, 2022, from

Created on 03-06-2022 | Update on 08-12-2023

Related definitions

Area: Policy and financing

Window guidance is a credit policy allowing central banks to steer bank lending toward certain economic activities. In the post-war period, it was common for both developed and emerging economies to employ various forms of credit control and allocation. However, these policies were virtually discontinued by the 1980s and the mandate of the central banks was reduced to controlling inflation through interest rates. Housing affordability and sustainability are strongly interlinked with monetary policies, particularly because housing prices and supply rely on debt for financing (Muellbauer, 2018). This link is embodied in inflation-adapted interest rates, which are used by central banks to “cool down” the economy and control prices. Currently, high inflation has pushed central banks all over the world to increase interest rates. Increases in interest rates impact the interbank lending rates such as the Euribor or the Libor and ultimately affect the price of credit in an economy. This then influences in particular capital-intensive industries such as housing development and renovation. Social housing organisations (SHOs) which provide social -thus affordable- rental housing, particularly in North-Western Europe, are dependent on credit to finance not only the provision of housing, but also the energy-efficient renovation of their stock. The rise in interest rates resulting from central banks’ monetary policy aimed at curbing inflation puts the financial viability of renovation and new construction in jeopardy. This insight is not new, as the dependence on credit for renovation and maintenance was already foreseen as an issue in the late 90s by the British housing economist Christine Whitehead (1999). Traditionally, governments support social housing providers through grants, subsidies and through the guaranteeing of their debt (Lawson, 2013). For example, publicly owned social housing providers in Germany have their debt rated equally to that of their main owners: municipalities and regions. As a result, their financing costs also benefit from a high rating implying low-interest rates for their debt. This is also the case in France and the Netherlands where ultimately it is public institutions that guarantee SHO debt. For instance, a Dutch social housing provider raises debt at a triple AAA rating, that of the Dutch state. This lowers their interest costs in comparison to that of other companies which may be rated lower, hence have a higher risk premium and pay more for their debt (Fernández et al., forthcoming). In an inflationary environment, where interest rates rise across the board, this means higher financing costs for SHOs despite their risk premium remaining constant. Window guidance is relevant in this context because it would allow central banks to set a lower interest rate for lending to certain activities, thus creating a window. During the period between 1945-1980, advanced and emerging economies alike implemented interventions on credit and capital markets. Central banks would align lending with industries, exports and manufacturing while increasing interest rates for less desirable sectors (Bezemer et al., 2023; Hodgman, 1973). According to Bezemer et al., (2023) based on Hodgman (1973) and Goodhart (1989 pp. 156–158), ‘credit guidance’, ‘credit controls’, ‘credit ceilings’, ‘directed credit’, and ‘moral suasion’ are also common names for these types of policy. More recently, organisations such as Positive Money have been advocating for a sovereign money proposal where banks would obtain funds from their national central bank with limitations on their usage (Youel, 2022). This enhanced control over bank lending opens up the possibility of earmarking private capital for investment in decarbonisation activities. For example, lending for speculative purposes or for highly polluting activities could be curtailed while the financial viability of environmentally friendly activities could be expanded. Ultimately, credit controls offer the possibility to guide credit toward the provision of affordable and sustainable housing and away from sectors such as fossil fuels or speculative bubbles.  

Created on 24-04-2023 | Update on 22-05-2023


Area: Policy and financing

A universal definition of social housing is difficult, as it is a country-specific and locally contextualised topic (Braga & Palvarini, 2013). This review of the concept focuses on social housing in the context of the UK from the late 1980s, which Malpass (2005) refers to as the phase of ‘restructuring the housing and welfare state’, to the early 2000s, known as the phase of the ‘new organisation of social housing’. In response to previous demands for housing, such as those arising during the Industrial Revolution, and recognising the persistent need to address the substandard quality of housing provided by private landlords in the UK (Scanlon et al., 2015), the primary objective of social housing has historically been to enhance the overall health conditions of workers and low-income populations (Malpass, 2014; Scanlon et al., 2015). However, this philanthropic approach to social housing changed after the Second World War when it became a key instrument to address the housing demand crisis. Private initiatives, housing associations, cooperatives and local governments then became responsible for providing social housing (Carswell, 2012; Scanlon et al., 2015). Social housing in the UK can be viewed from two perspectives: the legal and the academic (Granath Hansson & Lundgren, 2019). Along these two perspectives, social housing is often analysed based on four main criteria: the legal status of the landlord or provider, the tenancy system or tenure, the funding mechanism or subsidies, and the target group or beneficiaries (Braga & Palvarini, 2013; Carswell, 2012; Granath Hansson & Lundgren, 2019). From a legal perspective, social housing maintained its original goals of affordability and accessibility during the restructuring period in the late 1980s. However, citing the economic crisis, the responsibility for developing social housing shifted from local authorities to non-municipal providers with highly regulated practices aligned with the managerialist approach of the welfare state (Granath Hansson & Lundgren, 2019; Malpass, 2005; Malpass & Victory, 2010). Despite the several housing policy reviews and government changes, current definitions of social housing have maintained the same approach as during the restructuring period. Section 68 of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008, updated in 2017, defines social housing as low-cost accommodation provided to people whose rental or ownership needs are not met by the commercial market (HoC, 2008; 2017, pp. 50-51). The Regulator of Social Housing, formerly the Homes and Communities Agency, has adopted the earlier definition of social housing and clarified which organisations provide it across the UK. These organisations include local authorities, not-for-profit housing associations, cooperatives, and for-profit organisations (RSH, 2021). In contrast, the National Housing Federation emphasises the affordability of social housing regardless of the type of tenure or provider (NHF, 2021). From an academic perspective, Malpass (2005) explains that during the restructuring phase, social housing was defined as a welfare-supported service – although it did have limitations, which meant that funding principles shifted from general subsidy to means-tested support for housing costs only, which later formed the basis for the Right to Buy Act introduced by the Thatcher government in the early 1980s (Malpass, 2005, 2008). The restructuring phase, however, came as a response to the housing 'bifurcation' process that began in the mid-1970s and accelerated sharply from the 1980s to 1990s (Kleinman et al., 1998; Malpass, 2005). During this phase, the role of social housing in the housing system was predominantly residual, with greater emphasis placed on market-based solutions, and social housing ownership concerned both local authorities and housing associations (Malpass & Victory, 2010). This mix has influenced the perception of social housing in the 'new organisation' phase as a framework that regulates public housing intervention for specific groups and focuses on enabling non-municipal providers (Malpass, 2005, 2008; Malpass & Victory, 2010). Currently, as Carswell (2012) explains, social housing plays an important role in nurturing a variety of initiatives aimed at providing ‘good-quality’ and ‘affordable’ housing for vulnerable and low-income groups (Carswell, 2012). Oyebanji (2014) sees social housing as any form of government-regulated housing provided by public institutions, including non-profit organisations (Oyebanji, 2014). Additionally, Bengtsson (2017) describes social housing as a system that aims to provide households with limited means, but only after their need has been confirmed through testing (Bengtsson, B, 2017 as cited in Granath Hansson & Lundgren, 2019). To a great extent, social housing in the UK can be seen as a service system that is intricately linked to the welfare state and influenced by political, economic, and social components. Despite being somehow determined by common factors and actors,  the relationship between social housing and the welfare state can sometimes be complex and subject to fluctuations (Malpass, 2008). In this context, the government plays a vital role in shaping and implementing the mechanisms and practices of social housing. While the pre-restructuring phase focused on meeting the needs of the people by increasing subsidies and introducing the right to buy (Stamsø, 2010), the aim of the restructuring phase was to meet the needs of the market by promoting economic growth (privatisation, market-oriented policies and reducing the role of local authorities) (Stamsø, 2010; Malpass, 2005) . The new organisational phase, on the other hand, works to meet and balance the needs of all, with people, politics and the economy becoming more intertwined. Welfare reform legislation passed in 2010 aims to enable people to meet their needs, but through 'responsible' subsidies, leading to a new policy stance that has been described as 'neoliberal' thinking (Hickman et al., 2018). However, there are still no strict legal requirements for the organisation and development of social housing as an independent service system, and most of the barriers to development are closely related to the political orientation of the government, rapid changes in housing policy and challenges arising from providers' perceptions of existing housing policy structures (Stasiak et al., 2021).

Created on 17-06-2023 | Update on 20-06-2023


Author: M.Horvat (ESR6)

Area: Policy and financing

Financialization, as a broad concept, denotes the growing prominence and impact of financial institutions and markets. Within the realm of housing, financialization refers to how finance plays a pivotal role in rendering housing as a highly liquid asset, thus erasing distinctions between income and wealth distribution (Aalbers, 2016; Stephens & Hick, 2022). Moreover, financialization encompasses the rising dominance of institutional investors as primary participants in the housing market, effectively elevating housing to the status of a distinct asset class. Aalbers (2016) defines financialization as “the increasing dominance of financial actors, markets, practices, measurements and narratives, at various scales, resulting in a structural transformation of economies, firms (including financial institutions), states and households” facilitated by the combination of “economic circumstances, conscious government decisions, unforeseen consequences (“negative externalities” in economist speak) of government decisions, and financial-technical possibilities” (p. 118). In the housing sector, financialization encompasses a diverse array of activities and strategies pursued by both institutional and private investors. These include practices such as debt management, securitization, and the establishment of real estate investment trusts (Holm et al. 2023). Central to this phenomenon is the treatment of housing as a commodity. Commodification, broadly defined as the process by which the economic value of a thing dominates over its other uses, means that housing's function as real estate supersedes its role as a place to live (Madden & Marcuse, 2016).                  The evolution of global investment and financial markets has led to a structural shift in housing, culminating in its commodification. As a result, housing is primarily seen as a commodity rather than as a place of residence (Farha & Porter, 2017), and it is turned into a commodity that accumulates wealth which can be bought or sold on global markets. Consequently, housing has increasingly become a means of wealth accumulation for a privileged few, exacerbating its affordability crisis for the broader population. Therefore, the financialization of housing poses a significant threat to human rights by disconnecting housing from its essential social function as a place to live. Financialization has sparked significant interest in housing studies, emerging as a novel process shaping housing institutions (Hick & Stephens, 2022). This interest surged notably in the aftermath of the global financial crisis (GFC) of 2007-08, underscoring the heightened attention paid to financialization in research circles (Holm et al., 2023). Moreover, scholars argue that the financialization of housing is not only pertinent to housing researchers but also to welfare and poverty researchers. Adopting a theoretical lens rooted in the “varieties of capitalism” approach to the welfare state, the extent of financialization within housing markets is viewed as a determinant of national growth levels and is regarded as a driver of growth (Hick & Stephens, 2022) The financialization of housing has led to significant changes in European housing systems, manifested in various effects and forms including rising house prices, declining rates of home ownership, an increase in the private rented sector, deteriorating housing markets, and decreased affordability of housing (Stephens & Hick, 2022). The trend towards financialization is changing the housing market and increasing income inequality in a society, while fuelling housing price instability by encouraging speculation (Dewilde & de Decker, 2016; Fields, 2016). Financialization is thus an obstacle to the affordability and stability of housing supply. The best example of this is the GFC, which has its origins in speculative mortgage derivatives. Stephens et al (2015) state that “the nature of tenure and its relationship with finance reflect the role of the state and the market as sources of (housing) welfare.” The responses of different governments and housing markets to the GFC varied across Europe (Whitehead, 2014). This was confirmed by Holm et al. (2023) and their comparative analysis of financialization in seven European cities, who found that each city filtered global processes differently due to “place-specific historical and socio-political arrangements” (p. 159). Financialization thus introduced a new logic of economic conditions for the provision and distribution of housing, facilitated by innovative financing practices that promoted housing as a safe, low-risk, high-return investment opportunity (Holm et al., 2023). The continued financialization of housing is anticipated to exacerbate affordability challenges for both mortgage homebuyers and renters, with renters experiencing a greater and more immediate impact (Hick & Stephens, 2022). As Aalbers (2016) asserts, if financialization is the root problem in the housing market, then de-financialization is the solution. De-commodification measures are essential, particularly for tenants and low-income families lacking secure housing. However, tackling the issue necessitates more than just examining the role of financial institutions and markets. It requires to increase the provision of social housing, reforms in housing governance, labour markets, and banking and taxation regulations, which collectively influence the nature and extent of financialization in housing.

Created on 18-03-2024 | Update on 03-04-2024


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