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Public response to welfare policy retrenchment: The importance of trust in implementing agencies. The case of early retirement in Sweden 1999-2010

Journal article
Authors Helena Olofsdotter Stensöta
Anna Bendz
Published in Social Policy & Administration
ISSN 0144-5596
Publication year 2019
Published at Department of Political Science
Language en
Keywords policy feedback, retrenchment, social insurance, Sweden, trust, welfare generosity, preferences, state, attitudes, Development Studies, Public Administration, Social Issues, Social Work
Subject categories Political Science


There is a long-standing argument that citizens' trust in the state needs to be recurrently reproduced for policies to endure and that this also includes trust in its separate policy agencies. Such trust is likely to be more important for costlier policies, as, for example, social insurance schemes. The article explores whether short-term changes in welfare programme generosity affect people's trust in the agency implementing the programme. Using the example of early retirement in the encompassing welfare state of Sweden, we study a decade of significant reform (1999-2010), during which the inflow to early retirement diminished greatly, as did citizens' trust in the implementing Swedish Social Insurance Agency (SSIA). We conclude that citizens' trust is higher when implementation is more generous. Indeed, a third of the drop in citizens' trust in the SSIA over the period can be explained by declining levels of generosity in early retirement, with people politically to the left responding with lower trust. Theoretically, we suggest, first, that trust in implementing institutions can function as feedback to policy and, second, that there is a basic relationship between more generous policy outcome and higher trust in encompassing welfare states such as Sweden.

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