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NASJONALT FORSKNINGSINSTITUTT med regional forankring og internasjonal relevans 

Between centralized and decentralized welfare policy

Have national guidelines constrained the influence of local preferences?


Decentralized welfare services allow more flexibility toward individual needs assessment, but may also have negative consequences such as welfare competition or lack of equity between regions. Does national standardization require full centralization of individual assessment, or can a set of unbinding national guidelines reduce unwanted variation between regions? The case of this article is a national benefit norm for municipal social assistance payments issued by the Norwegian central government in 2001. A large share of municipalities changed their local norms to match the national norm in the following years, but data show that local benefit norms are uncorrelated with the actual payments. The apparent compliance to national guidelines does not translate into actual welfare generosity.

Although caseworker discretion is important for individual payments, the municipal level of welfare payments is clearly influenced by local preferences and budget constraints. This implies that political control is active, but through other instruments than the local benefit norms.