A book published at Leuven University Press

What experience do newcomers have with the welfare state?

What are the expectations and needs of new arrivals/migrants in our country, and what social assistance can Belgium provide? This is the central question of a wide-ranging study conducted by researchers from the University of Liège, the KULeuven and Saint Louis University. The results of this study have just been published in a book, available in open access, which provides a unique understanding of the interactions between migrants, the welfare state and the administrations in our country. 


he question of the social assistance that countries can provide to newcomers often gives rise to lively public debate and remains a major concern at a political level. This reality gives rise to new demands and changes in the profiles of people who benefit from social services. Social institutions - such as the PCSWs (public centres for social welfare) in Belgium - responsible for providing assistance play a crucial role in newcomers' access to social benefits. “Access to social assistance that meets the needs of migrants can significantly influence their incorporation into the new living environment, explains Elsa Mescoli, an anthropologist at the ULiège CEDEM (Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Migration) and co-author of the book. For example, how social institutions deal with language barriers, and the strategies developed by social workers to try and overcome certain obstacles, can make it easier for migrants to participate in the social, cultural, economic and political dynamics of their new environment”. 

This book sheds empirical light on the match between the needs of newcomers and the services provided for them. Peter De Cuyper, sociologist at the KULeuven’s Institute for Research on Work and Society (HIVA), continues: “It examines the accessibility of social assistance for new arrivals from a global perspective, encompassing aspects such as access (and the equality of this access for everyone) and the availability of services. One of the main conclusions is that accessibility (or service provision) differs (widely) not only between PCSWs, but also between social workers. Factors influencing this are, for example, the organisation of services (general or specialised services), language policies, but also the personal attitudes of social workers. As a result, new arrivals feel that they are treated unequally and, according to them, getting help depends on the presence of a more or less “nice” social worker”. Focusing on Belgian public social welfare centres (CPAS/OCMW) as a case study in Wallonia, Flanders and Brussels, the authors explore the policies and practices related to social assistance and labour market activation for newcomers and the factors influencing people's access to their rights. By integrating the perspectives of all stakeholders and drawing on the views of social workers and managers as well as the experiences of migrants themselves, this book offers a unique understanding of the interactions between immigrants, the welfare state, and bureaucrats on the ground. It provides valuable pointers for improving service delivery by striving to adopt a more inclusive approach

This book was produced as part of the BBOX project, funded by Belspo, a cooperation between the University of Liège (CEDEM), the KULeuven and the UCLouvain Saint Louis-Bruxelles (FUSL). The book 'Newcomers Navigating the Welfare State. Experiences of Immigrants and Street-Level Bureaucrats with Belgium's Social Assistance System" is an open-access book with the GPRC (Guaranteed Peer-Reviewed Content) label. 

Scientific reference

Vandermeerschen H., Mescoli E., De Cuyper P., Lafleur J-M., Newcomers Navigating the Welfare State. Experiences of Immigrants and Street-Level Bureaucrats with Belgium's Social Assistance System, Leuven University Press (https://lup.be/ ), November 2023. DOI 10.11116/9789461665249

The book is available in open access

Read the book


Elsa Mescoli - ULiège

Peter De Cuyper - KULeuven

Abraham Franssen (UCLouvain/Saint Louis Bruxelles)

Collaborators : Adriana Costa Santos (Université Saint-Louis Bruxelles), Michelle Crijns (Wilde Ganzen Foundation), Peter De Cuyper (KU Leuven), Abraham Franssen (Université Saint-Louis Bruxelles), Angeliki Konstantinidou (Université de Liège), Jean-Michel Lafleur (Université de Liège), Jérémy Mandin (Université de Liège), Carla Mascia (Université Libre de Bruxelles), Elsa Mescoli (Université de Liège), Roberta Perna (Universidad Complutense de Madrid), Marije Reidsma (KU Leuven), Hanne Vandermeerschen (KU Leuven), Youri Lou Vertongen (Université Saint-Louis Bruxelles).

Study commissioned by BELSPO, the Belgian Science Policy

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