Crisis als katalysator | Amsterdam University Press Journals Online
Volume 22, Issue 3
  • ISSN: 0169-2216
  • E-ISSN: 2468-9424


Social security reform in Belgium and the Netherlands

Social security reform in Belgium and the Netherlands

The record levels of benefit dependency and labor market inactivity rates in the Netherlands and Belgium induced a political crisis in both countries in the early 1990s. Policymakers announced drastic interventions in the Dutch disability insurance and the Belgian unemployment insurance. The countries are similar in many ways: both are continental welfare states, corporatist social security systems, and consensus-seeking political systems. Despite these similarities and despite the scope and severity of the problems in each country, reform outcomes looked very different. In Belgium, major reforms were announced but incremental steps were taken to improve the financial sustainability of the social security arrangements. The Netherlands experienced major changes in its disability policy and in the organization of benefit administration and supervision. Why do welfare states with similar institutional settings respond so differently to similar social policy problems? This study argues that historical institutionalism in combination with a crisis-induced reform perspective can account for this divergence. Historical institutionalism explains how path dependency led to increasing rigidity and accumulating contradictions in both welfare states. If crisis rhetoric is successful, it questions this rigidity and includes a great deal of blaming and framing to legitimize a drastic change of the status quo.


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