Other topics

Producing insecurity and exclusion at the intersection of immigration and poverty policies

June 28, 2021 13:15
June 28, 2021 14:45

Yann Bochsler, FHNW, School of Social Work, Institute for Social Planning, Organisational Change and Urban

Dr. Lisa Marie Borrelli, HES-SO Valais-Wallis, Switzerland


Béatrice Bertho, Hélène Martin

Lucia M. Lanfranconi, Yu-Ling Chang and Ayda Basaran

Yann Bochsler

Migration and poverty are two policy areas, which cause heightened political debates and public attention. While both phenomena have attracted different kinds of public and political discourses, both are necessarily intertwined, given that migrant individuals are often facing exclusionary legal restrictions to access state support. They are recurrently portrayed as undeserving, needy and dependent on the ‘host states’. Yet, what is often overlooked is how this assumed dependency is caused and constructed by policies and laws to the degree that it demonises the foreign ‘other’, often accused of misusing welfare assistance. These discourses and practices disclose the moral and socially hierarchising character of social policies. 

This semi-plenary session builds on three contributions, which are going to be published in the Special Issue entitled “Governing the Poor – Migration and Poverty” in December this year (Borrelli/Bochsler forthcoming, Journal of Social Policy Research). All three contributions present empirical material in different (country) contexts (Switzerland and California) and discuss areas of policy and street-level research. The aim of this semi-plenary session is twofold. First, we want to discuss the three contributions focusing on the main findings and their theoretical take on the migration-poverty nexus as well as their understanding of social policies as vectors of moral values. Second, we want to link the findings with the topic of the congress by discussing whether they reflect the current tendency in European social and migration policy to favour stigmatising and exclusionary discourses and practices in order to produce consciously social (in-)justices as means of governing.

Béatrice Bertho and Hélène Martin take a closer look at emergency shelters for the homeless in Switzerland and how local authorities and (inter)national laws produce policies, which exclude poor migrant individuals from using these shelters. Not only does Switzerland have no policies that explicitly deal with homelessness, they also exclude certain foreign nationals from the constitutional concept of human dignity that should guarantee the same level of social help to all “needy” people. 

Lucia M. Lanfranconi, Yu-Ling Chang and Ayda Basaran present a case study of California’s Welfare-to-Work (WTW) program at the state-, county-, and frontline-level and from clients’ perspectives, demonstrating the intersection of immigration and welfare governance. Embedded in the workfare system and welfare reform of 1996 in the US, they discuss the restrictive eligibility of immigrants and the overall punitive workfare regime. The authors highlight how policy changes towards activation have affected migrant individuals and street-level staff.

Yann Bochsler discusses the current cantonal narratives of youth policies in Switzerland. Drawing on qualitative data collected in two city-cantons, this contribution shows the ambiguous discourses addressed at young adults without vocational training and receiving social assistance (YAS). This contribution focuses on the discourses by contrasting perceptions of implementers with the perceptions of youngsters themselves. The identified narratives confirm a practice of a paternalistic and economic segmentation that morally separates the worthy YAS from the unworthy YAS.