Social Work Discretion in the Welfare State Organization of Employment Services

Sunday, 10 July 2016
Location: Hörsaal III (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Distributed Paper
Anette SKALS, Metropolitan University College, Denmark
Social Work Discretion concerning employment services and eligibility for benefit provision of recipients of sickness benefits in Denmark is exercised by professional workers employed within municipal jobcentres. Since before and especially after the millennium formal and operational reforms including organizational reforms have gradually altered the politics, legislation and governance structure of employment policies into combinations of social protection and labor-market policies targeting all groups. This development in terms of active labor-market policy or activation policy is not unique to Denmark and is likely to have transformed the work of professional groups at the municipal level profoundly. Given these changes a single case study was carried out using one jobcenter to explore how social work discretion is unfolded concerning recipients of sickness benefits within work and the organization. Three research questions guided the case study; who has the authority to set the standards of discretion, what are the standards of discretion and what themes characterize the discretionary reasoning of the caseworkers. The study shows that the entire organization from local politicians to different levels of managers and the caseworkers themselves in various ways is involved in framing the discretionary powers of the caseworkers. The authority to set the standards lays however firmly with the jobcenter management i.e. the team manager and the general manager. The study reveals a comprehensive and complex set of organizational rules and guidelines aimed at both curtailing and supporting the discretionary powers of the caseworkers where speed, efficiency and quality are important elements. The standards of discretion are best described as a combination of (1) professional norms and judgement connected to professional knowledge in situations of indeterminacy (Grimen & Molander) and (2) organizational activities, resources and strategies connected to institutional work (Lawrence, Leca & Suddaby). The discretion of the caseworkers is substantial but constantly guided, monitored and controlled.