Local welfare systems: blessing or curse for democracy?

According to Skelcher et al. (2005), local governance arrangements embody a tension between two principles: effective democratic guidance and control to assure the public interest is served and effective program delivery to increase community welfare. There are at least two potential democratic deficits in local welfare systems. The first occurs because in local welfare systems local, regional, and national actors collaborate. In these multi-level arrangements, democratic participation and accountability tend to be weak (see for instance Bekkers et al., 2007; Skelcher, 2005). The second potential democratic deficit occurs in partnerships between public, private and non-profit organizations, where political participation and accountability are often indirect (Sørensen, 2005).

Simultaneously, local welfare systems are usually very recognizable, close to citizens, more open and transparent than large, national bureaucracies that implement social services. Therefore, local welfare systems may also give rise to new or improved forms of political participation and accountability. Therefore, the following research questions may be formulated:

  • How are political participation and accountability organized in a variety of local welfare settings?
  • How can these arrangements be assessed in terms of democratic legitimacy?
  • Which challenges and best practices can be identified for political participation and accountability in local welfare systems?
  • How does the transformation to local welfare systems affect solidarity and social cohesion in local communities?

EUR Research Excellence Initiative Research programme 2016-2020

The State of Local Welfare: Devolution of welfare state arrangements and the implementation, organization and management of welfare services