Impact of social policies on health: What works, for whom and under what circumstances?

Health inequality is rooted in inequality in vital resources for health, including financial resources, a supportive informal network, a stable living situation, work or daytime activities, or education and literacy. About 25% of Dutch citizens experience deprivation in such forms of capital.

We aim to realise health potential in lifestyle behaviours and mental health for two groups in such vulnerable positions: people receiving social assistance benefits, and people facing problematic debts. Social policy consists of crucial instruments for improving capital in those groups, but can also have adverse effects and lead to additional burden. However, scientific understanding of how social policy affects health is very limited, especially regarding debt policy.

Aim of the project

This project aims for a breakthrough in health potential through 1) better understanding how social policy can contribute to realising health potential through improving capital, and 2) implementing those insights to accomplish conditions necessary for a break-through in health potential.


Two systems approaches are combined for establishing a breakthrough. Firstly, a realist approach enables insights into what, for whom, and under what circumstances social policy interventions contribute to realising health potential. Secondly, an institutional approach enables scaling up these insights, by developing implementation strategies that acknowledge the crucial role of institutional actors for accomplishing a break-through.

Together with stakeholders, first, we review social policy interventions. Second, we execute a realist evaluation of selected social policy interventions in eight diverse municipalities. Third, we co-create strategies to implement insights with (national) institutional actors. Fourth, we co-develop knowledge products and activities, targeting professionals, students, citizens and governments, to stimulate uptake and upscaling of the knowledge produced in the project.


The consortium combines expertise from health sciences, micro-economics, sociology, debt and collection, governance and organizational science. Moreover, academic knowledge is combined with professional knowledge, and experiential knowledge, representing the entire knowledge-chain.

Project members

  • Dr. Ernst-Jan de Bruijn
  • Milou Haggenburg MSc
  • Dr. Annemien Haveman
  • Prof. Dr. Marike Knoef
  • Dr. Tamara Madern
  • Dr. Susanne Tonnon
  • Dr. Maikel Waardenburg