Activation Policy in Action : A Street-Level Study of Social Assistance in the Swedish Welfare State

Sammanfattning: Work-related activation policies are currently developing in most western welfare states. Sweden is no exception and activation policies were introduced in the 1990s in many municipal social services organizations in Sweden. The Swedish form of activation policies requires social assistance recipients to participate in mandatory activation program in return for financial support. This dissertation investigates the street-level implementation practices of activation policies within the context of the Swedish welfare state. The purpose of the study is to examine how street-level workers in the municipal social service systemtranslate activation policy into practice in their interactions with the clients and what factors that structure their implementation practices. The research project is a multiple-case study that examines the street-level practices in two municipal social service settings in Sweden, Skärholmen city-district in Stockholm municipality and Osby municipality and their local activation programs. The data collection consists of observations of the staffs’ daily operations, interviews with local politicians and other key personnel, and the analysis of formal policy and program documents. Theoretically this dissertation builds on the street-level bureaucracy perspective (Lipsky, 1980), which suggests that organizational working conditions shape street-level workers implementation practices through their development of informal coping strategies. But this study extends the street-level buraucracy approach by including political-institutional factors and normative assumptions about public support and social assistance recipients into the analysis. Findings from the study suggest that street-level implementation practices entail a number of informal coping strategies that removes activation policy from formal policy goals. Implementation practices entail, for example, mass referrals instead of individual assessments and tailor-made solutions. Clients were sorted and categorized on the basis of moral perceptions about behavioral deficits instead of employment needs. These informal practice strategies were the results of both coping strategies and normative assumptions that interacted with the organizational context in which these practices took place.