This paper fits within a broader research programme concerned with the processes that link labour market precarity and social exclusion. Labour market insecurity manifests itself most directly in the form of unemployment, and other elements in the programme seek to measure the impact of precarity, and unemployment in particular, on poverty and social exclusion in the eight countries covered. One of the principal concerns of the programme is however the extent to which institutional differences across countries with respect to the labour market and social protection are a significant factor mediating the relationship between labour market precarity and social exclusion. This paper focuses on the effectiveness of cash transfers, the central element of social protection systems, in alleviating the effects of unemployment on income poverty. The structures of social protection systems vary greatly across European Union member states, and in many cases have altered significantly in recent years in response to high unemployment (see Hauser et al, 1998). Using data from the mid-1980s and the mid-1990s for six member countries, the paper compares the effectiveness of different systems in lifting or keeping the unemployed out of poverty, and how this has been affected by the way systems have responded to the challenges produced by developments in the labour market in the past decade. The specific role of social insurance-based unemployment-linked transfers versus other cash transfers is also considered, to assess the extent to which social insurance has been able to cope with changes in the labour market over the period. The data come from a variety of national large-scale household surveys. The paper is structured as follows. Section 2 discusses the data and methods to be employed in measuring the impact of cash transfers on poverty risks for the unemployed. Section 3 looks at the overall risks of poverty for the unemployed before and after cash transfers, and how these changed between the mid-1980s and mid-1990s. Section 4 looks at the role of social insurance-based unemployment payments versus other cash transfers. Section 5 examines the extent to which the impact of transfers varies by gender and by duration of unemployment. Section 6 highlights the key patterns identified and what these tell us about the relationship between the type of welfare regime a country operates and effectiveness in alleviating poverty among the unemployed.