Vulnerable groups at the core of The Hague local policy

02/02/2018 12:00 / Author: Miriam van der Sangen / Photography: Hollandse Hoogte / Category: Innovation and development
With more than 526,000 inhabitants, the Municipality of The Hague is one of the three largest cities in the Netherlands. Last year, the city spent close to 70 million euros in combating poverty and debt among local residents. This is almost 5 million euros more than in 2016. Key components of this policy are creating equal opportunities for children, encouraging participation of older people, reducing household debt and providing optimum access to services for the poor. These policy goals constituted the basis for the establishment of an Urban Data Centre by the Municipality of The Hague and CBS in late September 2017.

‘Schuldenlab070’

Fred Dukel, Director of the Department for Social Affairs and Employment (SZW) of The Hague, describes the three policy spearheads at SZW: ‘One is to help more people in the transition from welfare benefits to paid employment or education. Local citizens should get as many opportunities as possible to participate on their own. It does not only benefit them, but also society as a whole. Secondly, we provide support to households with (or at risk of) problematic debts, by helping them to organise their budget. For this, we work with various social organisations such as housing corporations and energy suppliers in the so-called Schuldenlab070 (a knowledge platform for financial support mechanisms, tr.).’

Anti-poverty policy

The third spearhead for the municipality is aimed at implementing a firm anti-poverty policy, to ensure that even vulnerable groups can participate in local activities. ‘To achieve this, we have set up a number of facilities. For example, the ‘Ooievaarspas’ reduction card for low income families to get discounts on cultural or sports activities; and a reduction package for children to give them better access to school supplies, a computer or a bicycle.’ In 2017, the municipality devoted over 10 million euros to poverty reduction among children. ‘Children do not choose the conditions they grow up in, and should not have to suffer because of their parents’ financial problems.’

Families living in poverty

In order to adequately address these three priorities, data are essential, Dukel says. ‘Data are playing an increasingly important role in society. The use of data is in line with the government’s growing preference for knowledge-based policies. The Hague is a city of knowledge and innovation. This means we attach great importance to working with knowledge institutes such as CBS and Leiden University.’ The city government already has large amounts of data available, but in some areas there is a lack of insight: ‘Once every two years, we commission a report on poverty which describes the size and composition of the related target groups. The monitor provides insight into the use of poverty-reducing local facilities and their reach. However, some data are lacking. For example, we would like to find out more about the background and living conditions of families with children who live in poverty, especially low income working families. It is difficult for us to identify and reach this group as they do not receive benefits or other municipal provisions.’

‘The Hague is a city of knowledge and innovation. This means we attach great importance to working with knowledge institutes such as CBS and Leiden University’

Zooming in on neighbourhoods

In mid-2017, the municipality made a conscious decision to set up the CBS Urban Data Centre/The Hague. What was the reason behind this decision? Dukel: ‘CBS possesses data which may form a valuable addition to the existing knowledge we have available. We know the number of children in The Hague who are living in poverty; but thanks to CBS data, we have also gained insight into family conditions, for instance the composition of such households, whether the parents are in paid employment, etc. These data also make it easier for us to zoom in on neighbourhoods and provide even more support to these families.’ CBS data can also play an important role in other areas, says Dukel: ‘Little is known about people who have left social assistance benefits. Are they working and what kind of work are they doing? How much do they earn? CBS data can provide more insight into the outflow and into whether municipal resources are used efficiently in this respect.’ Another important aspect in this collaboration is the knowledge CBS has on privacy, among other topics, which can be applied in the processing of data.

Close coordination

The CBS Urban Data Centre/The Hague had its festive launch on 26 September 2017. Prior to this, CBS and the municipality held a number of exploratory talks and workshops. Dukel: ‘It was an opportunity for both sides to strengthen each other through cooperation. But as it turns out, this is a bit tricky as the two organisations operate in a different context. CBS is independent, while the municipality is being held accountable by its council. The definitions we use are also different. In the survey on local children living in poverty, CBS used a definition which was different from the one used by the municipality. It’s an important learning point for both parties to closely coordinate these sorts of issues ahead of time at the start of the process.’