The aim of this paper is to make a preliminary assessment of the impacts of the decentralisation of Dutch social assistance.
Even though decentralisation is often promoted as a new governance instrument, balancing centralised and decentralised aspects has been a feature of Social Assistance systems for a long time. This article describes how processes of decentralisation in Dutch Social Assistance in the context of activating the Dutch welfare state are determined by two core objectives: on the one hand, to give local authorities more autonomy in designing and delivering activation services; on the other hand, to ensure that national social policy objectives are implemented at the local level. Specific attention is paid to the most recent decentralisation development which made municipalities financially responsible for social assistance expenditure. Building on the results of some preliminary evaluation and effect studies, this article assesses the impact of decentralisation.
The findings show that decentralising financial responsibility has had a clear impact on local policies: preventing social assistance dependency and promoting social assistance exit have become major concerns of many Dutch municipalities.
As the latest decentralisation reform is recent, research results are preliminary at this stage. Future evaluation research should focus on a broader set of success criteria than the reduction of social assistance expenditure only.
The article discusses some fundamental issues often neglected by those advocating decentralisation: how do local social policies influence labour‐market developments? To what degree does inter‐municipal variation reflect different local needs? What is the impact of decentralisation on equality and equal treatment? Decentralisation may be necessary in order to make social services more effective and tailor made, but it certainly is not free from risks.
The paper contributes to the debate on the risks and opportunities of decentralisation of social assistance on the basis of empirical evidence and practical experiences.
van Berkel, R. (2006), "The decentralisation of social assistance in The Netherlands", International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, Vol. 26 No. 1/2, pp. 20-31. https://doi.org/10.1108/01443330610644407Download as .RIS
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