City of UtrechtExperiment ‘Weten wat werkt’: study into the effects of fewer rules in social assistance

The municipality of Utrecht helps people receiving social assistance to find a job and participate in society. We want to do this in the best possible way. The Dutch Participation Act (Participatiewet) prescribes strict duties and entitlement conditions for people who receive social assistance. Whether obligations are the best way to help people remains to be seen. What are alternative approaches, and are there approaches that are simpler or better? We want to know what works.

In collaboration with Utrecht University and a group of social assistance claimants we are studying the effects of an approach with fewer rules and more freedom. We want to find out if such an approach helps people to actively participate in society and/or find a job more quickly. We will also study the effects on health and well-being, on debts, and on whether people are satisfied with their situation.

The study will start on  May 1st 2017. One subject group will start a bit later, for the formal approval of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment is required.

What are we studying?

We are interested in the effects of less conditional social assistance. Therefore, the participants will be exempted from reintegration obligations. They can decide for themselves how they take steps to find work. Some of the participants will be offered extra help and support.

We are also curious about the effect of financial incentives. Some participants therefore receive 125 euro on top of their benefit provided they carry out an activity offered by the municipality.  

There will be several treatment groups in the study. We also include a control group to compare the results of our interventions with the current situation. This group will receive social assistance with the current rules in place. After two years, the results of all these groups will be compared.

Infographic of the subject groups, please read descriptions of the groups below

Explanation of the four treatment groups:

  1. Group 1 is the control group. For this group the current rules remain in place. This allows us to compare the results of the other groups with the current situation.

  2. Group 2 does not have an obligation to reintegrate. Participants are therefore no longer obliged to apply for a job, for instance. They can decide for themselves how they take steps to find work or actively participate in society.

  3. Group 3 does not have an obligation to reintegrate. Participants can decide for themselves how they take steps to find work or actively participate in society. This group is actively offered additional help and support to participate and find a job.

  4. Group 4 does not have an obligation to reintegrate. They also can Participants in this group can earn an additional 125 euros per month, if they carry out an activity that has been chosen by the municipality.

Who can participate?

The participants will be selected through a lottery. This gives everyone an equal chance to participate. Participation is voluntary, of course. Participants, however, cannot choose which group they want to be selected in. This, too, is decided through a lottery.

Those selected to participate will receive detailed information about the study in advance, including information about the consequences of their participation. Participants will not suffer any financial or other damages because of their participation.

No study on basic income

In the media, the study in Utrecht is sometimes referred to as a study on basic income. However, this is not the case. It is just a study on the effects of relaxing some conditions or duties to receive social assistance.

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