Comparable Reference Budgets

Budget standards or reference budgets are one of the longest standing tools to define an income-based poverty threshold. They are illustrative priced baskets of goods and services that represent a certain targeted living standard. I have worked in particular on reference budgets that represent the minimum financial resources for adequate social participation. These reference budgets have many applications both in research and in social policy and social work, and are developed in a wide range of countries. In two EU funded projects, I contributed to designing a methodology for constructing comparable reference budgets in Europe, and coordinated with Bérénice Storms and Karel Van den Bosch the data collection of the first comparable reference budgets in the EU. With Tess Penne, who was also involved in these two projects, Bérénice Storms, Karel Van den Bosch, and others, we continue to work on developing comparative social indicators, based on reference budgets.

Later, with funding from the InGRID 2 project, we launched the EU Platform on Reference Budgets, which I chair with Bérénice Storms.

The following sections cover:

  1. Data, reports, methodological papers of the EU pilot project on comparable reference budgets in Europe
  2. Data, Reports, and methodological papers of the ImPRovE reference budgets
  3. Papers on using reference budgets for constructing social indicators and applied (comparative) research on poverty and tax-benefit policies
  4. Other publications on reference budgets (mostly in Dutch)

EU pilot project for the development of a common methodology on reference budgets in Europe (funded by DG Employment and Social Affairs, European Commission)

Coverage: 26 EU countries



Journal articles and book chapters on theory, data and methods:

  • Conceptual considerations: Goedemé, T., Penne, T., Swedrup, O., Van den Bosch, K. and Storms, B. (2019), ‘Is there common ground for defining a decent social minimum in Europe?‘, in T. Kotkas, I. Leijten and F. Pennings (eds.), Specifying and securing a social minimum in the battle against poverty, Oxford: Hart, pp. 93-109. [working paper version]
  • Comparison of food-based dietary guidelines as a basis for developing the food basket: Carrillo-Álvarez, E., Boeckx, H., Penne, T., Palma Linares, I., Storms, B. and Goedemé, T. (2019), ‘A comparison of European countries FBDG in the light of their contribution to tackle diet-related health inequalities‘, European Journal of Public Health. [doi]
  • Presentation of the food basket: Carrillo-Álvarez, E., Penne, T., Boeckx, H., Storms, B. and Goedemé, T. (2019), ‘Food Reference Budgets as a Potential Policy Tool to Address Food Insecurity: Lessons Learned from a Pilot Study in 26 European Countries‘, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16: 1, 32. [open access, doi, data file]
  • On the computation of the housing basket: Van den Bosch, K., Goedemé, T., Schuerman, N. and Storms, B. (2016), ‘Reference housing costs for adequate dwellings in ten European capitals‘, Critical Housing Analysis, 3: 1, 1-9. [open access, doi]
  • Methodological lessons learned on developing comparable reference budgets: Goedemé, T. (2020), The steep and winding road to comparable reference budgets in Europe, in Deeming, C. (ed.), Minimum Income Standards and Reference Budgets, Bristol: The University Press, pp. 255-270.

Reference budgets in the ImPRovE project (funded by the European Commission’s 7th Framework programme)

Coverage: 6 EU countries (Belgium, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Italy and Spain). In addition, Statistics Luxembourg developed reference budgets with a very similar method.


Conceptual and methodological papers:

  • Goedemé, T., Storms, B., Stockman, S., Penne, T. and Van den Bosch, K. (2015), ‘Towards cross-country comparable reference budgets in Europe: First results of a concerted effort‘, European Journal of Social Security (EJSS), 17: 1, 3-31. (2014 FISS Best paper prize) [download; doi]
  • Storms, B., Goedemé, T., Van den Bosch, K. and Devuyst, K. (2013), Towards a common framework for developing cross-nationally comparable reference budgets in Europe, ImPRovE Working Papers, Antwerp: Herman Deleeck Centre for Social Policy – University of Antwerp. [download]
  • See section below for applications of the ImPRovE reference budgets.

Social indicators based on reference budgets. The unique feature of reference budgets, is that they broaden the perspective beyond the income people have, by also looking at essential expenses, and the out-of-pocket costs of accessing publicly provided or subsidised goods and services. As a result, they offer an enriching additional tool for comparative social policy analysis, and measuring poverty. Many of these papers are part of Tess Penne‘s PhD thesis, which she defended successfully on 27th April 2020.

As a tool to contextualise the at-risk-of-poverty indicator, identify equivalence scales and measure poverty:

  • Goedemé, T., Penne, T., Hufkens, T., Karakitsios, A., Bernát, A., Franziskus, A., Simonovits, B., Álvarez, E.C., Kanavitsa, E., Cussó Parcerisas, I., Romaní, J.R., Mäkinen, L., Matsaganis, M., Arlotti, M., Kopasz, M., Szivós, P., Ritakallio, V.-M., Kazepov, Y., Van den Bosch, K. and Storms, B. (2019), ‘What Does It Mean To Live on the Poverty Threshold? Lessons From Reference Budgets‘, in B. Cantillon, T. Goedemé and J. Hills (eds.), Decent incomes for all. Improving policies in Europe, New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Decerf, B., Van den Bosch, K. and Goedemé, T. (2017), A new measure of income poverty for EuropeCORE Discussion Paper  2017/08, Louvain-La-Neuve: CORE.
  • Penne, T., Cussó Parcerisas, I., Mäkinen, L., Storms, B. and Goedemé, T. (2016), Can reference budgets be used as a poverty line?, ImPRovE Working Paper 16/05, Antwerp: Herman Deleeck Centre for Social Policy, University of Antwerp.

As a tool to evaluate the affordability of essential goods and services, and evaluate the adequacy of (minimum) income protection:

  • Penne, T. and Goedemé, T. (2020), Can low-income households afford a healthy diet? Insufficient income as a driver of food insecurity in Europe. Food Policy. [doi] [Working paper version].
  • Vanhille, J., Goedemé, T., Penne, T., Van Thielen, L. and Storms, B. (2018), ‘Measuring water affordability in developed economies. The added value of a needs-based approach‘, Journal of Environmental Management, 217, 611-620. [doi]

As a tool to assess the adequacy of (minimum) income protection, identify the cost of children and evaluate implicit equivalence scales of tax-benefit systems:

  • Penne, T., Hufkens, T., Goedemé, T. and Storms, B. (2020) ‘To what extent do welfare states compensate for the cost of children? The joint impact of taxes, benefits and public goods and services‘, Journal of European Social Policy, 30(1): 79–94 [doi] (This paper also makes use of the HHoT tool developed in EUROMOD)
  • Penne, T., Cornelis, I., and Storms, B. (2020), ‘All we need is… Reference budgets as an EU policy indicator to assess the adequacy of minimum income protection‘ in Social Indicators Research, 147: 991-1013. [doi] (This paper also makes use of the HHoT tool developed in EUROMOD)

Other papers and book chapters on (comparable) reference budgets:

  • How comparable reference budgets are an answer to the debate on absolute vs. relative poverty measures in Europe: Goedemé, T. and Rottiers, S. (2011), ‘Poverty in the Enlarged European Union. A Discussion about Definitions and Reference Groups‘, Sociology Compass, 5: 1, 77-91. [working paper, doi]
  • Storms, B., Goedemé, T. and Van den Bosch, K. (2011), De meting van armoede in de Europese Unie : een pleidooi voor de ontwikkeling van Europese referentiebudgetten [a plea for the development of European reference budgets], Tijdschrift voor Sociologie, 32:3-4(2011), p. 470-496.
  • Storms, B., Van den Bosch, K., Goedemé, T. and Casman, M.-T., (2012), Naar Europese referentiebudgetten voor maatschappelijke participatie? Wat leren de Belgische budgetten? [What can we learn from the Belgian reference budgets for constructing European reference budgets?], in Vranken, J. et al. (eds.), Armoede in België: Jaarboek 2012, Leuven: Acco, pp. 97-115.