Peter De Cuyper | Newcomers Navigating the Welfare State

20th December, 2023 in Author’s corner


Discretion was found to be fundamental to the decision-making process leading to access (or not) to welfare provisions.


The topic of social assistance for migrant newcomers often sparks heated public debate and remains a prominent concern on the policy agenda. In Newcomers Navigating the Welfare State the authors explore the policies and practices related to social assistance and labour market activation for newcomers and the factors that influence individuals’ access to their rights. Q&A with editor Peter De Cuyper.

Briefly and concisely explain in plain language what the book is about.

The main topic of the book is how welfare institutions, and more in particular the Belgian Public Centres for Social Welfare, deal with newcomers and how migrant beneficiaries of social assistance in their turn experience their interactions with social welfare institutions. The unique perspective of the book is that we take a look behind the scenes of welfare provisions and learn more about how policies are implemented in practice and what factors influence the decision-making process for granting social assistance.

What or who inspired you to choose this topic?

Twenty years ago I wrote a master’s thesis on how social welfare policies are implemented in practice based on my field research in Public Centres for Social Welfare (PCSWs). It was interesting to see how activation practices differed between PCSW’s. Diversity was not really an issue at the time, at least not in the region where I conducted my research. As a researcher, my main research topic became the integration of migrants and I was surprised to see that – given the rise of diversity and the sometimes heated public debate about social assistance to migrant newcomers – the issue of how welfare provision is carried out in practice was understudied. Moreover, the perspective of the newcomers themselves was lacking. The Belspo BRAIN-be 2.0 programme provided an opportunity to fill this gap. My personal interest was to find out whether general findings about welfare provision for beneficiaries also hold for migrant newcomers and which specific accents are made in welfare provisions. These questions were also in line with the research interests of the partners involved in the project that led to this publication, such as the CEDEM – Centre for Ethnic and Migration studies, whose main axes of research include migration and social protection.  

Do you have any reading suggestions to share (books, blogs, journals, …) for anyone who wants to know more about the subject?

When it comes to implementation research, Lipsky’s “Street level bureaucracy: dilemmas of the individual in Public Services” from 1980 was and is very influential and remains worth reading.

When it comes to research on migrants, you could consult the Migration Research Hub ( You will find a collection of publications and a list of experts. The hub is run by IMISCOE, the largest European network of migration scholars. Since the 1 April 2022, the coordination of IMISCOE has been taken over by the University of Liège (with Jean-Michel Lafleur, co-editor of this book, as one of the coordinators). The network currently comprises 63 research institutes from various countries around the world and from different disciplines, including sociology, political science, anthropology, economics, law, demography, history and geography.

How did the writing process for this book go? Did you experience anything surprising, amusing or strange?

The writing process took place within the Belspo project BBOX, a collaboration  between CEDEM (Université de Liège), CESIR (Université de Saint-Louis – Bruxelles) and

HIVA-KUL Leuven (KU Leuven). The research took place during to the COVID crisis, which meant that we had to find alternative ways of conducting our interviews (online or in parks for example). This new reality was quite a challenge.

Fun fact: the contributors to the book gave birth to 6 babies during the writing process and production of the book.

What would you like readers to remember about your book?

The findings confirm the value of street-level bureaucracy as a theoretical framework for analysing of service provision to newly arrived immigrants, as discretion was found to be fundamental to the decision-making process leading to access (or not) to welfare provisions.

Do you have any plans yet for another publication? What will it be about?

We are planning a book on social mentoring for migrants and it will definitely be published in open access.

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