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M. (Maarten) Bouwmeester, LLM MSc

PhD candidate
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System failure in the digital welfare state (PhD project, 2022-2026)

In recent years, there have been multiple government scandals in the context of automated social security fraud prevention and enforcement across welfare states. Two especially alarming examples are the Australian Robodebt scandal and the Dutch childcare benefits scandal (Toeslagenschandaal). Both went on for multiple years and reached their final culmination in 2019 through court judgments, after thousands of benefit recipients had been confronted with unlawful chargebacks, debt collections and sanctions. In both cases, vulnerable citizens were disproportionately harmed by an automated decision-making system. Besides this, these social security scandals are alarming because of the scope and size of underlying failures and systemic flaws in government. Public administration failures were interwoven with structural weaknesses in the system of rule of law safeguards (Rechtsstaat).

This PhD project aims to deliver a fundamental understanding of this observed phenomenon of 'system failure' in the digital welfare state. It explores the key challenges posed to the functioning of rule of law control mechanisms in this domain, combining literature review and an empirical-legal analysis of the Robodebt scandal and the childcare benefits scandal. It thereby informs and provides guidance to current academic and professional discussions on institutional reforms in both Australia and the Netherlands.

This research contributes to the UN Sustainable Development Goals 16 (Peace, justice and strong institutions) by promoting the rule of law and improving access to justice (outcome target 16.3), and to SDG 1 (No poverty) by providing guidance to the implementation of social protection systems (outcome target 1.3).

The future of the universal welfare state: between social assistance and a guaranteed minimum income (2018-2022)

Maarten Bouwmeester participated as a research asisstant in the project 'The future of the universal welfare state: between social assistance and a guaranteed minimum income,' financed by Instituut GAK (2018-2022). This research explored the possibilities for a more universal approach to minimum income protection for people within the age of the working population. The research outcomes emphasize the importance of fair, simple, and future-proof arrangements, as explained in the final publication (in Dutch) 'Eerlijk, eenvoudig en toekomstbestendig: Drie pleidooien voor universalisme in het Nederlandse socialezekerheidsstelsel' (Bouwmeester, Brink & Vonk, 2023).

Last modified:17 October 2023 10.53 a.m.