Between legislation and realisation comes implementation. The effect of the multi-layered implementation process on social policy outcomes.

TitleBetween legislation and realisation comes implementation. The effect of the multi-layered implementation process on social policy outcomes.
Publication TypeManuscript
Year of Publication2018
AuthorsDe Wilde, M.
Place PublishedAntwerp
Type of WorkPhD-dissertation

The consensus in social policy literature is that the study of how implementation works is key to understand how policies become actual treatment for clients. Surprisingly, the different levels that determine this implementation process (country, local setting, professional and client) are seldom studied in one research project and with respect to the expected treatment outcomes for beneficiaries. In this dissertation I used an innovative and purpose designed survey to determine the importance of the several levels.
The experimental survey (factorial survey) allowed me to study social assistance treatment with regard to a large amount of clients (5247), social workers (583) and social assistance agencies (89).
I used Belgium as a case. The country’s decentralization, rather vague descriptions of work willingness in legislation and the explicit recognition of the case manager as a qualified professional with important interpretative discretion make Belgium an interesting case with which to look at the various determinants of eligibility. Undertaking this research has raised a number of reservations concerning the three following premises of the different research traditions which have previously been taken for granted:
(1) Client characteristics determine the treatment clients receive.
True, but – with regard to the dependent variables included in my research – to a lesser extent than might be expected from legislation. Client’s work willingness affected eligibility only to a limited extent, but became more important later in the activation trajectory. The influence of specific difficult life circumstances on eligibility and sanction decisions was negligible.
(2) The professional is of decisive importance for treatment.
True, variation is considerable, and part of it is not random but can be explained by the general welfare state attitudes of social work professionals.
(3) The level of decentralization of the policy determines treatment variation. This could not be confirmed. Overall, local agencies did not differ extensively from each other, but insofar as they did, organizational characteristics, political majorities and socio-demographic characteristics explained the variation.
Policy recommendations, derived from this dissertation, focus on both the administratisation of the eligibility test and on the revaluation of discretion in other parts of the social assistance trajectory.

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