Previous research has stressed the importance of proper housing conditions and continuity in the living environment in relation to children’s well-being. Accordingly, The Swedish government issued in 2007 a Vision Zero regarding evictions of children and their families. Since then however, over 3000 children have been evicted and far more are registered in requests for evictions at the Swedish Enforcement Authority, which highlight the importance of researching evictions processes regarding families in the Swedish welfare state. The recently initiated study that this paper is based on uses investigations regarding financial aid, handled by the social services at a municipal level, as empirical data in order to analyze how parents are described in relation to risk of eviction. This analysis is carried out with the purpose to see how discourses on poverty and parenthood are formulated in the data. Previous works on poverty in the welfare state in general, and on poor families in particular, has shown that the old and naturalized distinction between deserving and undeserving poor is still prominent in processes like these and that poverty is above all regarded as a sign of lacking discipline and diligence. However, previous studies has also shown that poverty often correlate with cognitive difficulties (caused by neuropsychiatric disorders and/or intellectual disabilities), which suggest that this may be the case also in relation to evictions of families. This possible connection has however not been explicitly addressed in previous research.
The social welfare agency workers who produce the investigations in question are here viewed as street level bureaucrats who can “determine the eligibility of citizens for government benefits and sanctions” (Lipsky 1980:4) and the investigations as mediators of dominant discourses on poverty The focus of the analysis is thus to see how taken-for-granted descriptions and categorizations can be viewed as expressions of governance in the welfare state. This analysis will be used as a starting point for a discussion whether alternative models of explanations to economic hardship - such as parental cognitive difficulties – are, or could be, recognized in the investigations as a possible contributing factor to an impending risk of eviction.
The study will also consist of interviews with street level bureaucrats such as social workers and employees at the Enforcement Authority, and also representatives from charity organizations who often encounter and support families living in economic hardship, in order to capture their view of these processes: their role in them and what scopes for improvement they see. The aim of these interviews is to address how different modes of operation and collaborations within and/or between authorities could reduce the number of families being evicted.
The study is expected to highlight how discourses of morality and discipline in relation to poverty may overshadow other models of explanations. Apart from contributing to a critical discussion about processes of categorization in the operation of the Swedish Welfare state, this could be a starting point for discussing how preventive work in relation to evictions of children and their parents can be reviewed and improved in the Swedish Welfare state which is in line with the aforementioned Vision Zero.
Governance of a Contemporary Multilateral Institutional Architecture, Groningen 4-6 Nov 2015