This article presents selected results from the first comparative study of social assistance across all 24 countries of the OECD. The scope of social assistance, discussed in the first section, is drawn to include all means-tested benefits in cash and kind, including those which provide benefits to higher income groups. The second section then presents in formation on the main programmes in each country, expenditures and groups of beneficia ries, trends over time, administrative struc tures, and operation of means tests. It concludes by developing a new measure of assistance benefit levels with which to evaluate different countries' systems. The third section distils from the country differences eight pat terns, or 'assistance regimes', varying from the limited, discretionary, decentralized models of Switzerland and Norway to the extensive, national, rights-based programmes of the English-speaking world; and from the relative generosity of Scandinavia and Australia to the low, marginalizing benefits of the Mediterranean countries and the USA. The last section turns to the economic pressures and political debates which are driving con temporary policy changes. The concepts and empirical data presented here will enable means-testing, targeting and selectivity to be brought back into the comparative study of European and wider welfare systems
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