International Social Security Review International Social Security Review

First published in 1948, the International Social Security Review is the principal international quarterly publication in the field of social security.

Articles by leading social security experts present international comparisons and in-depth discussions of topical questions and studies of social security systems in different countries.

ISSA member organizations can freely access the complete current issue of the Review in English and previous issues in the electronic archive (since 1967 for articles published in English; for 2007-2013 for articles published in French, German and Spanish) via My ISSA.

Commencing in 2014, the International Social Security Review is published in English only, and abstracts of all new articles are available in eight languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.

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Consult a free sample issue of the International Social Security Review online, or visit Wiley Online Library to browse contents and abstracts of all issues. For further information on how to access the articles please visit Wiley's Librarian Site.

Abstracts (current issue: October-December 2018, Volume 71, Issue 4)

Special Issue: Street-level bureaucracy in welfare-to-work in Europe

Rik van Berkel, Flemming Larsen and Dorte Caswell

Introduction: Frontline delivery of welfare to work in different European contexts

This themed issue contributes to European research on the role of front-line work in the implementation of welfare-to-work policies. A number of factors underline the relevance of such study. First, the focus on activating and disciplining the unemployed seen in many countries may on the surface look similar. However, a closer look at these policies and how they unfold in different contexts reveals many and interesting differences. While all contain a certain level of disciplining and coercive elements, they also to a varying degree contain elements that focus on the upgrading of skills, building human capital and providing other types of support in promoting labour-market participation. In turn, these policies contain both people processing and people changing technologies that are used for different aspects of policy delivery. In addition, policy developments have gradually expanded the client group of these policies, including more hard-to-place unemployed, thus making the client group more heterogeneous. Finally, we have seen a strong political belief in the positive effects of using punitive sanctions. Research supports this belief when it comes to clients with high employability and limited problems besides unemployment, but the knowledge-base is rather shaky when it comes to the hard-to-place clients with substantial problems. Using punitive sanctions or other disciplining or coercive measures in frontline work has caused controversy and resistance. In order to qualify our understanding of welfare-to-work policies, we need to take a step closer to where these policies are translated into reality for the target group.


Colin Lindsay, Sarah Pearson, Elaine Batty, Anne Marie Cullen and Will Eadson

Co-production and social innovation in street-level employability services: Lessons from services with lone parents in Scotland

The United Kingdom, as an exemplar liberal welfare state, has been characterized as in the vanguard of “work-first” activation – deploying high levels of compulsion and standardized employability services that seek to move people from welfare to work as quickly as possible. However, despite the extension of welfare conditionality to excluded groups such as lone parents, government-led, work-first employability programmes have often proved ineffective at assisting the most vulnerable to escape poverty or even just to progress in the labour market. We argue that alternative approaches, defined by co-production and social innovation, have the potential to be more successful. We draw on a study of local services targeting lone parents led by third sector–public sector partnerships in five localities in Scotland. Our research identifies a link between programme governance and management (defined by co-governance and collaborative partnership-working) and co-produced street-level services that deliver benefits in terms of social innovation and employability. We draw on 90 interviews with lone parents, and more than 100 interviews with delivery stakeholders and street-level workers, to identify factors associated with positive social and employability outcomes. The article concludes by identifying potential lessons for the governance and delivery of future services targeting vulnerable groups.


Delia Pisoni

Activating the most disadvantaged youth in Switzerland: Administratively too risky, politically too costly?

To increase the chances of integrating youth into labour markets in contemporary European knowledge societies, many policy schemes are geared towards investing in youth’s human capital. Since apprenticeship systems are assumed to ease school-to-work transitions, this seems a particularly promising avenue. However, research highlights that social policies often do not reach the most disadvantaged members of society. The aim of this article is to shed light on the reasons and mechanisms causing this phenomenon, called the Matthew effect, through a single, embedded case study of a vocational education and training programme for disadvantaged youth in Switzerland. The findings highlight cream-skimming practices as a coping strategy enabling frontline workers to satisfy strict assessment criteria. A budgetary allocation driven politico-administrative logic promotes such practices as a means to generate solid results, so as to safeguard political – and thus financial – support.


Katarina Hollertz, Kerstin Jacobsson and Ida Seing

Organizational governance of activation policy: Transparency as an organizational ideal in a Swedish welfare agency

The Swedish Social Insurance Agency (SSIA – Försäkringskassan) and its frontline staff have a key role in the implementation of activation policy. Drawing on ethnographic research conducted at local offices, this article investigates how the transparency ideal, as an integral part of the organizational governance of the activation policy, is negotiated and enacted in the everyday life of a welfare bureaucracy. The analysis shows the central role that the transparency ideal plays in the alignment of frontline staff with the normative regime of the agency. While the transparency ideal is central to the internal organizational life of the SSIA, the analysis shows how transparency is much less salient in relation to clients and other relations with the outside world.


Deborah Rice, Vanesa Fuertes and Lara Monticelli

Does individualized employment support deliver what is promised? Findings from three European cities

Since the inception of the European Employment Strategy in 1997, individualized employment support has been a key priority of the European Union and its Member States. Nevertheless, empirical research on the delivery of individualized services for the unemployed is still underdeveloped. In this article, we explore how local employment agencies in three European cities tailor counselling and services to individual jobseekers’ needs. We find that limited service budgets and underdeveloped organizational interfaces with social service providers tend to constrain the substantive individualization of services in practice, which works in the disfavour of vulnerable jobseekers. Individualized counselling is more widespread, at least for selected target groups. However, organizational capacities for offering individualized problem assessment and advice vary considerably across “worlds of individualization” in Europe.


Eric Breit, Knut Fossestøl and Eirin Pedersen

A knowledge hierarchy in labour and welfare services? Evidence-based and practice-based knowledge in frontline service innovation

Although policy-makers and scholars have directed increasing attention towards collaborative innovation and knowledge development between frontline agencies and workers and other stakeholders such as citizens and researchers, empirical research has not focused on the (varying) assessment of collaborators regarding what knowledge is “appropriate” to develop. In this article, we examine such knowledge assessments by drawing on a comparative case study of two local innovation projects conducted by the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration (NAV) in a four-year service innovation programme. Although they responded to the same call, the projects involved development of two very distinct types of knowledge; one dealt with practice-based knowledge and the other with evidence-based knowledge. We show that whereas the former knowledge type was contested and difficult to transform into practice, the latter prompted few (if any) challenges and was implemented on a relatively large scale. These two projects point to the possible existence of a hierarchy of knowledge in the labour and welfare services, where evidence-based forms of knowledge and methods are regarded as more legitimate and appropriate than forms of knowledge placed “lower” in the hierarchy. We discuss the reasons for and implications of this apparent hierarchy of knowledge for frontline labour and welfare services.


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Persons with disabilities and access to social security

The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 asserts that social security is an inalienable human right. As the international community celebrates the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on 3 December, it is important to highlight the goal to realize equal access to the right to social security protection for persons with disabilities.

It is accepted that there is a close association between persons with disabilities and the risk of poverty. Persons with disabilities are also likely to have less access to labour markets and to well-paying jobs. Physical and attitudinal barriers in civil society also heighten the exclusion of persons with disabilities.

“Social security systems play a critical role in assisting people with disabilities, not only providing access to benefits and services but also access to jobs. To respond to the needs of individuals, social security administrations need to develop appropriate disability management capacities and return-to-work programmes”, says Hans-Horst Konkolewsky, Secretary General of the ISSA.

Writing in the International Social Security Review (Vol. 70, No. 4), the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, Catalina Devandas Aguilar, states that the common experience of social and economic exclusion by persons with disabilities is heightened by the inequalities this diverse group face in gaining access to systems of social security protection.

A challenge to overcome can be the inappropriate administrative design of these systems, also to facilitate access to and return to work.

Institutions matter

Realizing equality in access to the human right to social security is often considered a procedural matter – a question of political will and of administrative capacity and competence. From this perspective, coverage extension depends simply on an appropriately-resourced political and bureaucratic process.

More often than not, conventional bureaucracies were designed to cater to the needs of all, based on common procedures and common deliverables designed for the “typical” case. Such bureaucracies came to be expected to function best when offering, what might be called, one-size-fits-all solutions.
On the flip side, such bureaucratic approaches were not necessarily designed to offer flexibility or to have the resources available to make distinctions between the different needs of individuals.
In the pursuit of equality in access to the right to social security for all, especially for people with disabilities, this observation merits reflection.

Innovation and a tailored approaches

The adoption in 2006 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) is viewed as turning point in coordinated international efforts to render social protection more inclusive, with Article 28 asserting that social protection be tailored to the needs of people with disabilities.

It is at the national level, not least in places of work, where practical and coordinated measures to support people with disabilities are most required. In the workplace, the ISSA Guidelines on Return to Work and Reintegration and the report on the Return on Work Reintegration show that investments in rehabilitation measures are beneficial for employers, social security schemes and society.

Generally, it is time to question the conventional bureaucratic design and delivery of social security protection. In practical terms, what is required is innovation to develop phased, measurable and time-bound responses. In this regard, the ISSA’s Good Practices in Social Security database can support social security agencies. As can the fundamental objectives set out in the ISSA Guidelines on Service Quality.

Two key points for the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals agenda emerge from this. In the search for appropriate innovative responses, the immediate challenge is not simply to achieve universal coverage. Also necessary is equality of access to coverage that ensures that such coverage is tailored to the needs of each person. Such tailored coverage should offer not only protection, but prevention and, consistent with Article 26 of the UNCRPD, habilitation and rehabilitation measures.

The role of institutions

The implications for social security institutions are clear. On the one hand, universal access to social security protection must mean providing benefit levels and services that are consistent with the person’s needs, including disability-related needs and expenses – persons with disabilities are confronted with daily expenditures that persons without disabilities are not. On the other hand, the services provided by, as well as the physical infrastructure, of social security systems must be accessible to all. The envisioned goal is to appropriately support people with disabilities to attain physical, mental, social and vocational ability, and to permit inclusion and participation.

Realizing equality in access to permit universal coverage thus requires the mobilization of important resources to address poorly-defined or unmet needs and to remove unnecessary physical, economic and social barriers. In this way, higher public expectations as regards social security provisions, as identified in the ISSA report, Ten global challenges for social security, can be better satisfied.

Urban planning, transportation and labour market policies are part of a necessarily coordinated national response. As are state-of-the-art information and communications technologies that offer the promise of the improved administration and delivery of social security benefits and services in a cost-effective manner. An entrenched social hurdle to overcome may relate to the negative attitudes towards and stigmatization of persons with disabilities in society.

As the international community marks the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, there is a pressing need to foster an understanding that the goal of equality in access to social security, to realize universal coverage as a human right, must necessarily also respect and respond to the individual needs of each and every person, including persons with disabilities, across the life course. In pursuit of this important objective, the ISSA recently signed a cooperation agreement with the global organization and network Rehabilitation International (RI).

Key reference

Devandas Aguilar, C. 2017. “Social protection and persons with disabilities”, in International Social Security Review, Vol. 70, No. 4.