Country Case Study Spain


In Spain, welfare has historically incorporated some of the most characteristic features of the continental „conservative corporatist“ model of European social policy, although it has also been labelled by the literature on comparative welfare as „familistic“ due to the key role that the family plays in the overarching architecture of the welfare system, particularly for children and dependent individuals.

Since its integration to the European Community (1986), Spain has followed a pattern of welfare convergence in three domains: (1) universalisation of social entitlements (education, health, pensions), (2) welfare expenditure increase, and (3) a diversification in the provision of social services by private and subsidised organisations. Thus, the Spanish social model or welfare state can be defined as both Bismarckian and Beveridgean traditions, as it combines universal and targeted access to services and benefits.

One the most relevant factor conditioning the social model and welfare development in Spain is the importance of government decentralisation both at the level of planning and policy implementation, from central to regional to local government. It is generally acknowledged that greater regional and local say in areas of policy-making closer to citizens’ perceptions have often been claimed on cultural or identity considerations. Such demands have been facilitated by the devolution of powers to regions and municipalities. These, in concurrence with central institutions of the European Union, are considered key actors in the service provision.

Nonetheless, the hierarchy of benefits is inversely coherent with the principle of territorial subsidiarity: the ‘better quality’ benefits are also the more centralised ones. It is also noticeable that access to ‘better quality’ benefits is independent from the family income, while the lower levels are family benefits strictu sensu.

With regard to policies, there is not an only one policy with regard to service provision, but different measures oriented to different groups of population. Generally, the Spanish ‘safety net’ of service provisions can be divided into two main groups: (1) Contributory Benefits (CB), and (2) Non-Contributory benefits (NCB). Eligibility for the former (CB) depends on having met certain conditions regarding social insurance contributions and certain contingencies such as old-age, widowhood, disability or unemployment. The amounts received depend on contributions and, in some cases, on a range of personal circumstances. Eligibility for the latter (NCB) depends on certain contingencies such as old-age, widowhood, disability or unemployment and, generally, on an income test. Eligibility in this case does not require a minimum amount of contributions and most non-contributory benefits are income-tested. The income test is usually related to a range of personal and family circumstances and to total individual or family income.

Criteria of identifying beneficiaries and distinguishing from non-beneficiaries generally take into consideration the following:

  1. Nationality and residence. Although nationality is not necessarily a requirement a certain period of registered residence of the beneficiary often in the region or Comunidad Autónoma is required in all programmes.
  2. Household formation and composition. Although applications are submitted by an individual, benefits have families as units of reference (and the individual applicant is responsible for its family distribution).
  3. Age. Most requirements set age limits between 25 and 65 years. Protection for citizens over 65 years rests mainly with non-contributory pensions.
  4. Economic resources of the beneficiaries. Access to benefits is means-tested, using the family (or household) as income unit. Means-testing can be applied differently depending on whether family income is derived from labour and other social benefits in order to avoid a reduction of protection, or to produce labour disincentives.
  5. Commitments and obligations. All benefits establish a number of obligations to be accomplished by the beneficiaries, which basically refer to cover basic needs of the household and to inform of any variations in the family unit.

It is important to note that variations in the awarding of the benefits depend on institutional milieus and civil servants discretionary criteria (at all three state, regional and local levels of government).

Practices and routines of past and current service provision (prior to AI use):

Generally, if individuals are not entitled to receive contributory benefits a non-contributory benefit is available, which is means-tested. As a general rule, the means-tested benefit system assesses entitlement according to family (or household) income unit. The family unit is, in general, the nuclear family. However, note that some non-contributory benefits, such as non-contributory old-age pensions, consider other cohabiting individuals within the family unit. It is worth noting that all benefits for the low-income (which are means-tested) may vary in some aspects. For instance, some benefits are paid to people already receiving contributory pensions, or to unemployed who exhausted their contributory unemployment benefit period. Further to this, some subsidies are differential benefits that increase existing income to an established minimum, whereas others are provided as final amounts. All these benefits provide cash amount which are lower than the legally established minimum wage. In other words, they provide a lower protection than that they could get were they to be active and employed in the formal labour market. The different benefits are ordered ranging from those which offer a better coverage to those more limited (in duration and intensity), and more conditioned with the compliance of activities related generally to labour activation.

The Case Study

The Case Study includes different City council employees (service providers and policymakers) and local representatives (beneficiaries and users) among its stakeholders in order to carry out the empirical social research for all sectors of service provision, as follows:

  • Barcelona City Council, with Barcelona Activa as its main ally, represents a key stakeholder as the capital city of Catalonia and the second largest city in Spain. The inclusion of Barcelona is important due to its leading role in service provision in the region and the implementation of Artificial Intelligence in this area.
  • Girona City Council. Girona is the capital of the province of the same name and a major metropolitan city. The city of Girona can be considered a regional player in terms of service provision. Artificial Intelligence is not yet in use for service provision.
  • Mataro City Council. Mataro is a major city within the province of Barcelona. The city is also an important service provider within the Maresme region (north-east of Barcelona). Some steps have been taken towards the implementation of Artificial Intelligence for service provision.
  • Vic City Council. Vic is a town within the province of Barcelona. The town can be considered an important service provider within the Osona region (north of Barcelona). Some steps have been taken towards the implementation of Artificial Intelligence for service provision.
  • Olot City Council. Olot is a town within the province of Barcelona. The town can be considered an important service provider within the Garrotxa region (west of Girona). Artificial Intelligence is not yet in use for service provision.

Further, the Case Study includes among its stakeholders the Catalan Department of Labour, Social Affairs and Families, which acts both as policymaker and technology provider, particularly for small municipalities. This regional department provides a range of social services and technical support for municipalities. While primary social services are generally run by municipalities, the towns and cities with more than 20,000 inhabitants manage such services directly. The councils of municipalities with less than 20,000 inhabitants can choose to manage them directly or to leave that task to the regional council.

Finally, the Case Study also counts with an important umbrella organisation from the voluntary and economic sector consisting of non-governmental organizations and other non-profit organizations among its stakeholders: The Table of Associations of the Third Sector. This organisation is leading the digital transformation of the Third Sector entitlements and represents a key player in the ecosystem of innovation in the service provision.

One may argue that so far the societal discourse around Artificial Intelligence in the area of service provision is generally positive rather than negative. This seems to be primarily related to the idea that using Artificial Intelligence will allow policymakers to make better informed decisions with regard to social assessment and, at the same time, to free social workers from doing simple, manual tasks and allocate time for more creative tasks and personal interaction with beneficiaries and users.

The Case Study from the University of Girona plans to use a three-stage methodology to obtain relevant information during the project. First, it will carry out various focus groups with City council employees and local representatives from the abovementioned five municipalities. Second, it will conduct up to 10 in-depth interviews with key informants from City councils and local representatives of the five municipalities under study. Finally, it will examine local and national discourses around the use of Artificial Intelligence in general and the implementation of Artificial Intelligence for social assessment in particular.

Own research of case study partners (previous projects, publications etc.) on the chosen domain:

Recent participation as Co-I in the following relevant projects:

(2017-2019) “Demography, Migration and New Statistical Frontiers: Big Data and Longitudinal Registers” (Ref. CSO2017-85670-R). Financed by the Spanish Ministry of Economic Affairs and Digital Transformation (€108.900). Co-Investigator.

(2016-2017) “Economic Change and Internal Population Dynamics: An Innovative Study of New Residential Mobilities in Scotland” (Ref. ES/N004701/1). Financed by the Economic and Social Research Council, Regne Unit (€129.682). Co-Investigator.

Some publications that are related (particularly with regard to the compositional element) of the Case Study:

Norman, P., Simpson, L., & Sabater, A. (2008). ‘Estimating with Confidence’and hindsight: new UK small‐area population estimates for 1991. Population, Space and Place, 14(5), 449-472.

Sabater, A., & Simpson, L. (2009). Enhancing the population census: a time series for sub-national areas with age, sex, and ethnic group dimensions in England and Wales, 1991–2001. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 35(9), 1461-1477.

Sabater, A. (2015). Between flows and places: Using geodemographics to explore EU migration across neighbourhoods in Britain. European Journal of Population, 31(2), 207-230.

Sabater, A., Graham, E., & Marshall, A. (2019). Does having highly educated adult children reduce mortality risks for parents with low educational attainment in Europe?. Ageing & Society, 1-36.

Galeano, J., Domingo, A., & Sabater, A. (2017). Economic crisis and pauperization in the metropolitan region of Barcelona: a demo-space approach using data from Caritas (2005-2013). ENCRUCIJADAS REVISTA CRITICA DE CIENCIAS SOCIALES, 14.

Sabater, A., Bayona, J., & Domingo, A. (2012). Internal migration and residential patterns across Spain after unprecedented international migration. In Minority internal migration in Europe (pp. 293-311).

Sabater, A., Galeano, J., & Domingo, A. (2013). La transformación de las comunidades mayoritarias y la formación y evolución de los enclaves étnicos residenciales en España. Migraciones. Publicación del Instituto Universitario de Estudios sobre Migraciones, (34), 11-44.

Domingo, A., & Sabater, A. (2010). El empadronamiento de la población extranjera en los municipios catalanes de 2004 a 2008. Scripta Nova. Revista Electrónica de Geografía y Ciencias Sociales, 14(34).

Sabater, A., & Domingo, A. (2012). A new immigration regularization policy: The settlement program in Spain. International Migration Review, 46(1), 191-220.


Social science

University of Girona

Institutional description

The University of Girona is a public institution devoted to excellence in teaching and research and to participating in the progress and development of society through the creation, transmission, diffusion and criticism of knowledge related to the sciences, technology, humanities, social sciences and the arts.

The University of Girona traces its history back to 1446 with the foundation of a school known as the Estudi General by King Alfonso V of Aragon, who granted Girona the privilege of awarding degrees in grammar, rhetoric, philosophy and theology, law and medicine. The current incarnation of the university was founded in 1992 after multiple efforts to bring higher education back to Girona during the latter half of the 20th Century.

The University of Girona, deeply rooted in Catalonia and Catalan culture, is one of the primary economic and cultural motors of the region. At the same time, it pursues a vocation of universality and openness to all traditions and cultures. The University, located in the city of Girona, is a part of the Catalan public university system.

UdG has 3 campuses, including the Edifici Les Àligues, a building erected in the 16th century to host Estudi General classes, which is now the university’s headquarters. It is part of the university’s campus in Girona’s old town. UdG has two further campuses in the city, one in the centre of town and the newly built campus in the southern neighbourhood of Montilivi. There is also a technology park run by the university in La Creuta on the outskirts of Girona.

UdG has 9 faculties, 24 departments, and 12 research institutes. UdG offers 45 bachelor’s degrees, 23 master´s degrees and 14 doctoral programmes. As of 2019, the university had over 15,000 students (including 800 PhD students enrolled), 1,200 teaching and research staff, and 600 administrative and support staff.

According to the global performance tables from the Times Higher Education University Impact Rankings assessing universities against the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, the University of Girona was ranked within the top 100 in the world, out of more than 450 universities from 76 countries worldwide. Furthermore, the latest GreenMetric index produced by the University of Indonesia placed the University of Girona in the 109th position in the world, and 12th within the categories of energy management and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, out of 619 universities from 75 countries worldwide.

Principal investigator: Prof. Albert Sabater

Albert Sabater is Serra Húnter Associate Professor of Sociology at the Faculty of Economic Sciences and Business at the University of Girona. He received a PhD in Census and Survey Research from the University of Manchester (2008), following the completion of a MSc degree in Social Research Methods and Statistics (2003) from the same university, and a MSc degree in Demography (2002) from the Autonomous University of Barcelona. He has been Marie Sklodowska-Curie researcher of the European Commission at the University of Manchester (Cathie Marsh Institute for Social Research), and Juan de la Cierva Fellow of the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation at the Autonomous University of Barcelona (Centre for Demographic Studies). He has held research and teaching posts in England (Cathie Marsh Institute for Social Research, University of Manchester), Scotland (Centre for Housing Research and Centre for Population Change, University of Saint Andrews), and Spain (Centre for Demographic Studies, Autonomous University of Barcelona). He has also enjoyed visiting fellowships at the Office of Population Research (Princeton University) and at the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing (University of Oxford). Albert Sabater’s postdoctoral research and contribution to interdisciplinary research (collaborations) have been supported by a total of nine project grants from competitive calls, from funding bodies such as the UK Economic and Social Research Council, the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation, the Catalan Agency for Research and LaCaixa Bank Foundation. In addition to these, some of the work undertaken by Albert Sabater has been commissioned by prominent third sector organisations such as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Shelter and Runnymede Trust, as well as by local authorities such as Birmingham City Council and the Provincial Government of Barcelona. The work carried out by Albert Sabater since completing his PhD in Census and Survey Research has featured in several publications, including international peer-reviewed journals and a co-edited book. His research interests cover methodology and substantive research in urban sociology, social demography, migration, social research methods and social big data.

Technical science

University of Girona

Principal investigator: Prof. Beatrice López

Beatriz López is Associate Professor of Computer Science at the Electrical, Electronic and Automatic Engineering and Head of the eXiT research group (Control Engineering and Intelligent Systems) at the University of Girona. eXiT focuses its work on decision support systems, case-based reasoning, machine learning and optimization. An important line of research is the improvement of the quality of healthcare through innovative applications of artificial intelligence. eXiT is also working on research projects and technology transfer and working closely with clinicians and health service providers. Beatriz López holds a Computer Sciences degree from the Autonomous University of Barcelona (1986), a Ph.D. in Computer Science from the Technical University of Catalonia (1993), and a degree in Information System from the Open University of Catalonia (2003). She joined the Artificial Intelligence Research Group of the Spanish Scientific Research Council after receiving her PhD in Computer Science, where she carried out the work “Case-based reasoning of strategic plans”. Since then, her research interests have revolved around case-based reasoning and planning and scheduling, and now also include optimization and learning in distributed environments. She was Assistant Professor from 1992-1995 and 1998-2000 at the Rovira Virgili University and has served as a Computer Science Engineer in several private companies. Since 2000, she has been an Associate Professor/Senior Lecturer at the Department of Electrical, Electronic and Automatic Engineering at the University of Girona, where she teaches courses such as Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. In February 2011, she co-founded Newronia, S.L., a spin-off company from the University of Girona. Since 2017, she belongs to the Advisory Board of MJN Neuroserveis, S.L. She is member of the Catalan Association for Artificial Intelligence (member of, Catalan Society of Technology (belonging to the IEC), and several scientific committees. On 2018, she received the accredited advisory seal on “Technology, healthcare industries and life sciences” granted by the Generalitat of Catalonia through ACCIÓ. Beatriz López has been involved in several international projects and has published widely in specialised journals and collective volumes.

Intermediary institution

Abadia de Montserrat

08199 Monestir de Montserrat (Barcelona), Spain