Street-Level Workers’ Discretion in the Changing Welfare

Tatiana Saruis


A crisis and deep re-organisation of European welfare systems started in the 1970s. Both the demand for and supply of welfare intervention are involved in relevant transformations, and the street-level workers are placed right at the crucial point where which they meet. They have to accomplish their complex mandate in a changing context and cope with multiple pressures. In order to carry out this task, they manage a certain degree of discretion (Lipsky 1980) that is shaped by the legal, organisational, cultural, social and economic context in which they are embedded. These conditions’ change tends to modify the “spaces” and the use of discretion. Usually, the street-level perspective studies the effects of discretion on policy implementation, services and users. This article focuses on how discretion produces feedback on the same street-level workers, modifying their role, work conditions and risks.


street-level bureaucracy; social workers; welfare crisis; discretion; professional risk

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