Local background of the social innovations
Over time, a strongly left-wing political culture emerged in Nijmegen. Its key values related to the protection of the less well off: solidarity, equal opportunities to participate in society and the urge for an “undivided” city. Over the past few years, a fear of increasing divisions between residents in the periphery (roughly the west and the areas around the canal) and other areas (north, east and centre) brought these discourses to the foreground. What these discourses mean for the “innovativeness” of the city is rather ambiguous. For some, Nijmegen has been always a front-runner when it comes to social renewal because of the progressive and entrepreneurial spirit that appears to arise from politics and the university. For others, however, the city has too long been a “caressing” state, while sometimes an “innovative kick” might have been better. The need to take care of the less well-off has led to a comprehensive local welfare system with a passive role for the recipients of that help, they argue. Yet, now that Dutch municipalities are facing big financial cutbacks, the maintainability of such a system is threatened. Moreover, there are broader (national/European) trends, as well as national policies and regulations, which undeniably have an influence on the way Nijmegen organises its local welfare. To begin with, as elsewhere in the Netherlands, the “Neighbourhood Development Programme” (wijkaanpak) has changed the role of housing corporations in neighbourhoods and paved the way for experimentation. Furthermore, ongoing decentralisation of welfare, especially in the field of care, has an impact on thinking about how and by whom welfare policies should be implemented. Finally, perceptions of the rights and obligations of people on income support have also changed.
In 2007, the so-called wijkaanpak was launched. Throughout the country, forty disadvantaged neighbourhoods were labelled as so-called “attention areas” (aandachtswijken or krachtwijken). For these neighbourhoods, extra financial resources were made available. Especially in the larger cities, such as Amsterdam, this had a significant impact on neighbourhoods because major regeneration projects could be initiated. In Nijmegen, however, people were surprised to hear that national government appointed one of its neighbourhoods (Hatert) too. The general belief was that Nijmegen did not have problems on the same scale as the larger cities. Nevertheless, the wijkaanpak did have an impact on Nijmegen because it influenced the role of housing corporations within the field of neighbourhood regeneration. Not only did they become responsible, financially and logistically, for the completion of the programme, the wijkaanpak also consisted of an integrated, more holistic approach towards neighbourhood regeneration. Besides improving the physical environment, the wijkaanpak also aims to enhance the broader “quality of life” (leefbaarheid) in disadvantaged neighbourhoods, i.e. to improve the social and economic environment too. Furthermore, citizen participation and partnering with local organisations were main themes in the wijkaanpak. Accordingly, projects such as “A Future for Everybody” and “Sirocco” are best understood against the background of the wijkaanpak. Housing corporations now take up initiatives in the social domain in addition to their “core business” of providing affordable housing:
For example, we let people in Hatert write and perform a theatre play that is paid for by the corporations, I think 40,000 euros. Back then they said, are you completely insane, we are not going to pay that. Eventually they did invest the money. But they thought that was very distant from what they were supposed to do and sometimes it did hurt. But now, particularly about investing in the social domain, corporations are more and more convinced that investing in that domain also adds value to their real estate. Not that that would be their primary goal, but it is for them an important factor to keep doing their job. To keep providing sustainable social housing.
Another national trend that has affected how welfare is implemented at the local level is the continuing decentralisation of welfare (and in particular care) policies from central government to municipalities. In addition to the complete decentralisation of youth care services, more and more caregiving services that used to be part of the General Act on Special Healthcare Costs (Algemene Wet Bijzondere Ziektekosten), and thus a (financial) responsibility of the central government, have been included in the Law of Societal Development (Wet Maatschappelijke Ontwikkeling, or WMO) and are now the responsibility of municipalities. Although the central government supports local governments with these transitions, in times of increasing budget restraints municipalities have to do more with less. Furthermore, the WMO – a law that concerns the provision of services for citizens in difficult conditions, such as, for example, the elderly, people with a handicap or psychological problems, but also people with financial problems – stipulates that citizens should have an independent life and participate in society as much as possible.
To achieve this purpose, municipalities are free to set their priorities wherever they feel there is a more stringent need for support. Although the first parts of the WMO reform are expected to be set in early 2014, and the complete form in 2015, the municipality of Nijmegen chose to start right away with restructuring local care arrangements in a fashion that resembles the basic idea of the new law. In a policy plan called “Solidarity, together, and solid”, the municipality points out the most important priorities of the new (local) WMO policy: focus on vulnerable groups, self-responsibility, “community reliance” (samenredzaamheid), inclusive society, personalised services and de-compartimentalisation and prevention before cure. These things come together in what the municipality has called “social neighbourhood teams” (sociale wijkteams), of which pilots started in 2012. These teams consist of professionals with different specialisations, often from different organisations, and are supposed to create a network of caregivers at the neighbourhood level. According to a neighbourhood manager of the municipality, the idea of social neighbourhood teams denotes a radical change:
The experience is that residents of a neighbourhood are often able to solve a lot of things together, without the need of professional assistance. There is a big, natural preparedness to do something for somebody else, if you are asked to do so. The social neighbourhood team builds a broad neighbourhood network of people, associations and organisations that want to do something for their neighbourhood. … That is the youngest development we are experimenting with. I expect that will be a revolution. We have of course the advantage of the WMO; I really think that that is going to mean a revolution.
Parallel to the developments in the field of care, when it comes to income support measures, such as social assistance, new or announced national laws and regulations also emphasise that everybody should participate in society, whether you are handicapped or unable to find paid work for example – such as the possibility of obliging people to do a “returning favour according to capability” (tegenprestatie naar vermogen) and the to be introduced “participation law” (Participatiewet). Again, municipalities carry the responsibility for getting as many people as possible “active”, but their financial means are severely cut. Since Nijmegen has been investing in expensive subsidised labour in the past decade, a radical shift was needed. In an attempt to still offer people a chance of a job, the concept of “work corporations” (werkcorporaties) was introduced.
Accordingly, these developments, in combination with the historically strong focus on taking care of the weak, pose a real challenge for the city of Nijmegen. However, as all three innovations in this report indeed attempted to increase the role of citizens, a shift seems to have been made, albeit not without hurdles.