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The ambiguity of social return policies in the Netherlands

Abstract

Social procurement policies, which aim to create employment opportunities for vulnerable groups, such as the long‐term unemployed and the disabled, have become increasingly popular in recent years. Despite their growing popularity, empirical research on this topic is limited. Combining insights from the social policy and public administration literatures, we explore the development and implementation of “social return” policies by the Dutch government. These policies are a form of social procurement that require private employers to spend a percentage of public tenders to hire individuals far removed from the labor market. Social procurement appears, by definition, to be a form of social investment. However, our analysis of the ideas underlying its use in the Netherlands suggests that significant contradictions exist, with evidence of neoliberal New Public Management tendencies, social investment, and the more recent form of public administration, New Public Service. Using extensive document analysis of parliamentary documents, discussions and evaluative reports from 2008 to 2014, we reveal the tensions inherent in the Dutch approach and discuss possible implications for our understanding of social policy and administration as well as social protection.

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