According to need? : the implementation of discretionary payments within social assistance schemes in Britain and the Netherlands
This in-depth cross-national case study questions broad assertions made to date regarding the general similarities that can be found in exceptional need systems within social assistance schemes in Britain (the Social Fund) and the Netherlands (Bijzondere Bijstand). Based on qualitative documentary analysis and in-depth interviews with those who administer discretionary payments in both countries the research highlights that these nominally similar schemes serve diverse goals and aims in their national contexts. Reflecting the different traditions of cash and care and the administrative structure of the state in the implementation of policy in this area, the first part of the thesis demonstrates that Bijzondere Bijstand in the Netherlands is firmly situated in an 'activity fare' context whilst the Social Fund remains largely separate from the administration of 'welfare to work' in Britain. The second part of the thesis highlights the empirically observed diversity that follows from these configurations of social assistance. Those who administer these payments have quite different educational and occupational backgrounds that inform the ways they think about poverty and the poor and are related to what they try to do for clients and customers with discretionary payments. The Dutch 'paternalistic' administrator attempts to facilitate paths out of social assistance for clients whilst Social Fund Officers are concerned with 'managerially' processing a large number of applicants in the context of targets and budgets. Organisational contexts are shown to affect the administration of discretionary payments to the 'deserving and undeserving poor', but not the meanings that administrators imbue the forms of payment at their disposal, grants and loans. Configurations of social assistance essentially set the context for the degree to which administrators can award payments in accordance with absolute and relative notions of poverty and human need and the interpretation and construction of needs and wants. In practice, need is a dynamic social construct that is informed by the professionalism of the workers, the ideology of the programme they implement and the structure and constraints of the bureaucracy in which they work.