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← Overview Database of Innovative Social Policies in Europe

Act on work and social assistance (WWB)

Country of implementation
The Netherlands
General short description of the innovation
This innovation of social assistance combines a reform of governance of social assistance (financial decentralization and deregulation) with stricter job search requirements for social assistance recipients. The overall objective is to decrease expenditure on social assistance and to reduce dependency on social assistance, by stimulating labour participation, whilst maintaining means-tested income protection for people without access to income from work, assets or social security. This reform is closely related to the SUWI-reform that re-organized the overall implementation structure of work and income policies in 2002.
Target group
Total Population
Policy Field
  • employment
  • social
Type of Policy
  • public
Duration of the policy
Since 2004
Scope of innovation
  • Scope: structural
  • Budgets: total budget for WWB in 2012 was around 4.5 billion euros for benefits and around 1 billion for re-integration and educational services (dedicated to other target groups than WWB as well)
  • Number of intended beneficiaries: 365.000 households (end of 2012)
  • Spatial coverage: national
General description of (intended) objectives and strategies
Social assistance is the means-tested last-resort form of public income protection. This innovation aims at decreasing dependency on social assistance, reducing expenditure on social assistance and increase labour participation. The main strategy is a reform in governance: first of all, the budgets for social assistance have been decentralized to the implementing municipalities in combination with a complex financial incentive system. This system rewards municipalities that realize sufficient reduction of social assistance expenditure because they can keep the budget that is not spent. When reduction is not sufficient, benefits have to be paid out of other municipal funds. Secondly, especially policies with regard to re-integration have been de-regulated, meaning that municipalities can implement their own re-integration policies (funded by national and European funds). They are expected to serve all kinds of target groups. Concerning income protection, national setting of benefit levels has remained, but with respect to supplementary benefits municipalities have discretion. Apart from the governance reform, obligations for recipients to accept work and re-integration services have been tightened. Exemptions for this obligation can only be given on an individual basis (except for lone mothers with children under five for whom special regulations apply). In 2015 new reforms are due when the so-called Participation Law becomes enacted.
Nature of the innovation-long-term perspective
Structural reform of social assistance
Type of innovation
  • new form of policy implementation/delivery
  • new/changed output and/or outcome
New outputs
  • governance (Decentralisation of budgets, financial incentives for municipalities, deregulation)
  • others (Stricter obligations with regards to accepting work and co-operating with re-integration services)
Intended target group
Social assistance recipients and claimants
Working age population
  • main source of income: social protection (Social assistance recipients and claimants)
Actors involved in policy-making/implementation and/or evaluation
  • beneficiaries/users (Have obtained the legal right to advise on municipal policies)
  • central state (Regulation)
  • municipal government (Implementation)
  • private for-profit organisations (commercial) (May be contracted for re-integration (as part of the SUWI-law, not of WWB))
Intended output
  • governance (The intended governance reforms have been implemented)
  • others (Stricter obligations for Socal Assistance-recipients apply)
Did the innovation have any outcome related to job quantity?
The number of recipients of social assistance until 2008 has dropped by more or less 6% as a net result of this reform, mainly because of an increase in outflow out of benefits by 3%. There is no proof of better gate-keeping/ reduction of entry into social assistance. It is not clear whether labour market participation has increased because of this act. Edzes (2010) finds no re-integration effect and in general, the net effect of re-integration has been found to be low (Szw 2008). A study in 2011 (CPB 2011) calculates that the results until 2008 are for a large part explained by displacement of young social assistance recipients to a disability benefit regime for young (WAJONG). It is estimated that over a longer period of time in the future the net effect will be positive, despite this temporary substitution effect
Clarification of outcomes in terms of impacting resilience and labour market inclusion
The act has had an impact on various vulnerable groups, given that these groups are overrepresented in the total group of social assistance recipients. The young have received special attention in most municipalities in the context of the WWB and the special WIJ law. They are overrepresented in the gross outflow figures out of social assistance (at least until 2008).The evaluation notes that elderly are generally not targeted by municipalities for activation policies. Migrants and ethnic minorities are overrepresented in social assistance, and are thus relatively affected more by social assistance reform. The evaluation notes that vulnerabe unemployed are generally not targeted by municipalities for activation policies.Finally, social assistance recipients are generally low-skilled. / / In the official evaluation, the reform has been considered successful because of its proven contribution to lowering social assistance dependency by increased outflow out of benefits. The new governance system has stimulated municipalities to focus on the number of social assistance recipients. However, a number of remarks have to be made. First of all, a large substitution effect has been observed from social assistance to disability benefits for young, which does not contribute to resilience. Secondly, a contribution to increased labour market participation is not clear, given the limited effect of re-integration trajectories and the big influence of economic development in general (the number of social assistance recipients has been rising since 2010). Thirdly, the evaluation concludes that the financial incentives have stimulated municipalities to invest mostly in the more easy to re-integrate at the cost of more vulnerable groups. This likely to influence net effectiveness in a negative way and means that vulnerable groups receive less support with respect to activation. /
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