Dutch Social Policy

The Netherlands' first social legislation dates from 1800. It was a very minor law setting down rules for employing young people and women, but it was the first in what would become one of the most extensive, generous bodies of social legislation in the world. Recently, however, in the light of demographic ageing, the social system has been overhauled with the aim of activating more of the population.

A flourishing community
The Work and Social Assistance Act, which came into effect in 2004, provides incentives to municipal authorities to help people on benefits find work. Other changes to the social security system are a new system for invalidity benefits, the phasing out of fiscal incentives for early retirement and a new, leaner Unemployment Insurance Act. New provisions to make it easier for people to balance work and care are the Childcare Act and the life-course savings scheme, in which people can save money for extended leave for care duties, study or training or other activities.

The main principle underpinning the Dutch social system is that everyone should be able to play an equally active role in society. But rights and duties are two sides of the same coin: those who can have a duty to work, because a job is the best way of preventing social exclusion. Some groups may need support in connecting with the job market, such as older people and people with disabilities, low-income families, young people with inadequate qualifications, minority groups, the homeless and drug addicts. The problems of school dropouts and youth unemployment are tackled by individually tailored education programmes and apprentice-type programmes which combine training and work.

The new Childcare Act makes it easier for mothers to return to work or to increase their working hours. Childcare capacity has increased substantially. Social welfare policy, too, should be aimed at creating an active and inclusive society: parents who are having problems raising their children or whose children are at risk of falling behind can also get help. And long-term unemployed people can be given help in tackling problems ranging from debt to psychological complaints. In April 2003, the government adopted the Equal Treatment of Disabled and Chronically Ill People Act. It protects disabled people from discrimination, enabling them to take full part in society.

The local authorities are mainly responsible for social welfare, and they a re increasingly opting for strategies at neighbourhood level, with integrated solutions to social and economic problems. The aim is to create flourishing communities, in which every resident feels involved.

Integration of minorities

Integration of minorities is one of today's most daunting political challenges. It is certainly one of the problems confronting Dutch society. Minority groups in the Netherlands include people from the Dutch overseas territories, the Antilles and Aruba, and from Suriname, and people who came to the Netherlands to work or to seek asylum. Together, they account for approximately 10% of the total population. The capital, Amsterdam, is home to people with 200 different nationalities.

In the past few decades, the Netherlands has developed into a multicultural society, where people from many different origins live together. The Dutch have a reputation for tolerance when it comes to people with different convictions or beliefs. It all started in the 17th century when the Netherlands gave asylum to people who were persecuted in their own countries, mainly for their religious beliefs. The Dutch government clearly opted for a multicultural society, in which everyone is free to practise their own religion, speak their own language and maintain their own culture, with equal opportunities for all. It would be fair to say that the Netherlands is a country in which a tolerant, smoothly functioning society has a high political priority.

But integration does not come easy. People of Turkish and Moroccan origin, for instance, are five times more likely to be unemployed than ethnic Dutch. So the government wants to encourage these groups to take part in society by, for instance, giving them the opportunity to undergo training and - through legislation - providing incentives for employers to employ them. Compulsory integration courses are also a means of preventing disadvantage. Shortly after arriving in the Netherlands, new immigrants now have to attend courses in Dutch language and society, and they receive help finding a job.

Keeping the social security system affordable

Another important political issue is the social security system. The demographics of a greying population mean that the number of over-65s in relation to the working population will rise sharply. If the Netherlands is to still have a social system in the future, it will need to activate people more strongly than before.
At the start of the new millennium, there were nearly one million people receiving invalidity benefits. Major reforms have cut back the inflow of new recipients enormously and many claimants are now being reassessed with the focus on their capacity to work. Reintegrating invalidity benefit claimants who have now been found fully or partially fit for work is seen as an important priority.

The System
The Dutch social security system is based on social insurances and supplementary income support provisions. The two categories of social insurance - employee and national insurances - are paid for jointly by employees and employers.

1. Employee insurances

Employees in the Netherlands are automatically insured under several acts of parliament. In this context, an employee is defined as someone who works for an employer and has an employment contract. There are other types of employment relationship that are equated with paid employment. Homeworkers, musicians and artists, for example, are included in this category. The employee insurances in the Netherlands are:
2. National insurances
Everyone who lives in or is in paid employment in the Netherlands falls under these schemes:
3. Supplementary income support provisions
The supplementary provisions provide income support for people who are not eligible for benefit or receive too little to live on. They are intended exclusively as supplements to raise the family income to the guaranteed minimum income. The most important supplementary provisions are listed below: