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Newcomers Navigating the Welfare State

Experiences of Immigrants and Street-Level Bureaucrats with Belgium’s Social Assistance System

Hanne Vandermeerschen (Editor), Elsa Mescoli (Editor), Jean-Michel Lafleur (Editor), Peter De Cuyper (Editor),

Category: Diversity and Equity Studies, Migration Studies, Social Science

Language: English

ISBN: 9789462703827

Publication date: December 14, 2023

€38.00 (including 6% VAT)

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Number of pages: 320

Size: 234 x 156 x 17 mm

Guaranteed Peer Reviewed Content

Funded by: KU Leuven Fund for Fair Open Access

Stock item: 158130

Standard delivery time for print books:

For Belgium: 5 to 8 working days

For EU: 2 to 3 weeks

For other countries: 4 to 5 weeks

Category: Diversity and Equity Studies, Migration Studies, Social Science

Language: English

DOI: 10.11116/9789461665249

ISBN: 9789461665249

Publication date: December 5, 2023

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Number of pages: 320

Guaranteed Peer Reviewed Content

Funded by: KU Leuven Fund for Fair Open Access


The needs of newcomers and the provided social assistance.

The topic of social assistance for migrant newcomers often sparks heated public debate and remains a prominent concern on the policy agenda. Society has experienced a growing level of diversity. This reality gives rise to new demands and changing profiles of individuals who benefit from welfare services. Welfare institutions, which are responsible for providing social assistance, play a crucial role in granting access to social benefits for newcomers. Moreover, the provision of social assistance can significantly influence the settlement and integration processes of migrants.

This book provides empirical insights into the alignment between the needs of newcomers and the service provided to them. It examines the accessibility of social assistance for newcomers from a comprehensive perspective, encompassing aspects such as gaining access (including equal access for all) and service availability. By focusing on the Belgian Public Centres for Social Welfare as a case study, 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.

By incorporating the perspectives of all the relevant stakeholders involved, drawing on the insights of social workers and managers as well as the experiences of newcomers themselves, this book offers a unique understanding of the interactions between immigrants, the welfare state, and street-level bureaucrats. It provides valuable insights for enhancing service provision, striving for a more inclusive approach.

Contributors: Adriana Costa Santos (Université Saint-Louis Bruxelles), Michelle Crijns (Wilde Ganzen Foundation), Peter De Cuyper (KU Leuven), Abraham Franssen (Université Saint-Louis Bruxelles), Angeliki Konstantinidou (University of Liège), Jean-Michel Lafleur (University of Liège), Jérémy Mandin (University of Liège), Carla Mascia (Université Libre de Bruxelles), Elsa Mescoli (University of Liège), Roberta Perna (Complutense University of Madrid), Marije Reidsma (KU Leuven), Hanne Vandermeerschen (KU Leuven), Youri Lou Vertongen (Université Saint-Louis Bruxelles).

Ebook available in Open Access.
This publication is GPRC-labeled (Guaranteed Peer-Reviewed Content).

Elsa Mescoli and Jean-Michel Lafleur

Chapter 1. Conceptualising immigrants’ access to social assistance and their interaction with street-level bureaucrats
Roberta Perna and Hanne Vandermeerschen

Chapter 2. Social assistance bureaucracies and new migrants: the Belgian context
Abraham Franssen

Chapter 3. Applying mixed-method design in the study of immigrant social protection
Elsa Mescoli, Angeliki Konstantinidou, Marije Reidsma and Jérémy Mandin

PART I. Social assistance for newly arrived immigrants

Chapter 4. Explaining variations in forms of service delivery for newcomers
Elsa Mescoli, Hanne Vandermeerschen, Adriana Costa Santos and Carla Mascia

Chapter 5. Understanding challenges and pitfalls in the service delivery to newly arrived immigrants
Adriana Costa Santos, Hanne Vandermeerschen and Elsa Mescoli

Chapter 6. Labour market activation and newly arrived immigrants
Hanne Vandermeerschen, Adriana Costa Santos and Elsa Mescoli

Conclusion Part I
Hanne Vandermeerschen

PART II. Policy in practice: the decision-making process

Elsa Mescoli

Chapter 7. The allocation of social assistance as a hierarchised decision-making process
Elsa Mescoli and Hanne Vandermeerschen

Chapter 8. The discretion of social workers towards newly arrived migrants
Elsa Mescoli

Conclusion Part II
Elsa Mescoli

PART III. Accessing welfare services in Belgium: the perspective of newly arrived immigrants

Chapter 9. Pathways of access: analysing newly arrived immigrants’ access to welfare services
Marije Reidsma and Michelle Crijns

Chapter 10. The newcomers’ perception of social assistance provision and its organisation
Adriana Costa Santos and Youri Lou Vertongen

Chapter 11. Developing forms of agency: how do newcomers deal with social services
Jérémy Mandin

Conclusion Part III
Jérémy Mandin

Part IV. Conclusion
Hanne Vandermeerschen and Peter De Cuyper

About the authors

Hanne VandermeerschenORCID icon

Hanne Vandermeerschen is a research expert in migrant integration at the University of Leuven, HIVA – Research Institute for Work and Society.

Elsa MescoliORCID icon

Elsa Mescoli is a lecturer at the University of Liège, Faculty of Social Sciences, CEDEM – Centre for Ethnic and Migration Studies.

Jean-Michel LafleurORCID icon

Jean-Michel Lafleur is a senior research associate at the FRS-FNRS and associate professor at the University of Liège (Center for Ethnic and Migration Studies). He is also the coordinator of the IMISCOE Research Network.

Peter De CuyperORCID icon

Peter De Cuyper is a migrant integration expert and research manager at the University of Leuven, HIVA – Research Institute for Work and Society.

This book offers in-depth insights into social assistance to newly arrived immigrant beneficiaries, based on research that gives voice to all stakeholders. Concepts of accessibility and 'street-level bureaucracy' explain social workers' social interventions and immigrants' experiences. A bold and nuanced analysis of how the safety net of our welfare state works. Highly recommended for policymakers and social workers.
Kristel Driessens, Universiteit Antwerpen

*'Newcomers Navigating the Welfare State’ is a wonderful book that sheds light on the implementation of welfare policy towards immigrant beneficiaries in Belgium. The book combines a plurality of perspectives and shows complexities surrounding provision of and access to social security benefits by newcomers. The detailed description and in-depth analysis goes beyond our current theoretical and empirical understanding of the intersection between welfare and migration governance. I highly recommend the book to anyone interested in migration and social welfare studies. *- Bozena Sojka, University of Glasgow

One of the strengths of the book is its approach to 'accessibility' as a process of interaction between the institution and its implementers on the one hand, and the clients on the other. It focuses on how the welfare state deals with migrants and newcomers in its policies towards the socio-economically disadvantaged. By mapping the process of support at different levels, the study is valuable not only for researchers but also for policy makers and practitioners. The latter can learn a lot about their role in this process. Rinus Penninx, Em. Professor of the University of Amsterdam.

Social protection is the collective insurance against individual risks; however, when migrants, asylum seekers, and EU citizens access these social rights, the perception of the larger population differs, with some viewing migrants as receiving 'excessive' welfare benefits whilst take-up remains under the rate of natives. Vandermeerschen, Mescoli, Lafleur, and De Cuyper's book is exceptional in explaining how street-level bureaucrats employ privileged discretion to interpret formal rights, categorise, and stratify 'immigrants' based on shared understandings of deservingness. In doing so, social protection can paradoxically accentuate, rather than mitigate, social inequalities in countries with high welfare such as Belgium. This is a must-read for those interested how nation, belonging and borders are practiced and reimagined in contemporary Europe not only on their physical, flag flying frontier but in welfare provision, i.e. in invisible yet effectives sites of state bureaucracy. - Roxana Barbules, University of Leeds UK

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