Institutions whose goal is to help those at the margins have been a feature of social life for centuries. Today, social assistance institutions have integration and encouragement as their goal. They seek to avoid exclusion and stigmatisation.
Poverty can tear at the fabric of society. However, preventing hardship among those with no resources while reducing exclusion and marginalisation is no easy task. How can social assistance best balance these goals, minimising disincentives to paid employment? What can be done to promote independence and individual responsibility?
This book compares the social assistance policies of Belgium, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and Norway. Although at first sight these countries appear very different, in fact the same policy dilemmas exist in the four countries. That local action is necessary to identify and help the excluded is accepted, but the balance between ensuring that sufficient resources are available at the local level while limiting budgets so as to ensure efficient use of resources is a continuing preoccupation. Governments stress their commitment to combat poverty, but benefits cannot be raised too high because this would harm work incentives. Different institutions sometimes disagree about whether benefit recipients are "job ready" or whether more social help is needed. No country has yet found a policy package which prevents exclusion, but innovative policies in each of these four countries are proving successful in limiting its extent.