How do we create an inclusive Maastricht?

By Bestuur on 15-05-2024

Not everyone is the same. If we want to include everyone, we need to recognize target groups. This is something we are not doing now and this is at the expense of policy effectiveness and therefore our residents in vulnerable positions. M:OED wants to achieve an inclusive Maastricht by:

  1. including diverse perspectives throughout the policy process and outcomes for these groups so that no one is overlooked and the right decisions can be made.
  2. supporting a wide range of representative organizations and residents for effective engagement.
  3. encouraging open council discussions that promote inclusiveness.

Inclusive policies in Maastricht without inclusion

In implementing its inclusive policy strategy, the Maastricht municipality is making it unnecessarily difficult for itself by wanting to distance itself too expressly from the target group policy strategy that preceded it. The pursuit of a “target group-free” policy is hereby elevated to an end in itself, leading to a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. This does not do justice to the specific barriers that groups in a vulnerable position encounter in their efforts to participate in society. The argument for abandoning target group policies was that inclusion policies would promote equity, but these have rather led to the opposite.

Target group policy explained

A target group policy involves looking specifically at a target group and the problems they face. For example: people with disabilities are often more limited in their access to employment. Target group policy then looks for a specific solution to this problem (=no access to paid work) and this group (=people with disabilities). A target group policy implements specific measures that make it easier for people with disabilities to enter the labor market.


What should inclusive policy look like?

Inclusive policy, on the other hand, looks at a domain and how to best tailor that domain to all its residents. In the process of arriving at a policy or approach, the various problems in that domain are the primary focus. However, this does not necessarily mean that target groups are no longer considered. On the contrary, you want to achieve the same goal for all target groups, so inclusion policies do need to differentiate between different target groups. After all, the problems experienced by each group may be different and thus require different solutions. Only then can we work toward the same outcome for everyone.

To revisit the example of access to the labor market: the goal is to create policies that ensure that everyone has access to the labor market. A pre-analysis shows that not only people with disabilities are more limited in accessing employment, but also, for example, people who have been unemployed for a long time, or who experience a language and/or cultural barrier. All these “target groups” should therefore be included in the policy, with specific solutions for each group, so that everyone achieves the same result, namely access to the labor market.


Consequences of inclusive policies without inclusion in Maastricht

The argument for abolishing target group policies was that inclusive policies would promote equity. However, because the municipality(council) acts on the belief that inclusive policies should be “target group-free,” this shift runs into three major problems in practice.

The first problem with this change is that it is undesirable at all to develop policies that are complete “target group-free”.  Developing inclusive policies requires consideration of target groups because there are also situations in which it is essential to focus specifically on certain groups. Take LGBT+ acceptance, for example. The City of Maastricht is a Rainbow City and has a partnership with the Ministry of OCW (Education) in the implementation of LGBT+ emancipation policies. But how can you accomplish this without specifically involving LGBT+ individuals and developing policies aimed at increasing LGBT+ acceptance in society?

The municipal council ran into this problem itself with an adopted motion specifically targeting senior citizen policies.  To sell this as an inclusive policy, the proposers simply had to deny that it could be considered a target group policy. Such reasoning not only hinders clear and effective policies but makes it difficult to address specific challenges of different groups. They are also not consistently applied to all target groups: many discussions in the council are killed by the comment “we don’t do target group policies”. Yet again, the city government is not consistent in this, as there are policies for (or against?) youth disturbances.

The second problem is that policies and interventions miss the mark if they are not allowed to differentiate between groups. Take the approach to homeless shelters, where young people in vulnerable positions, such as LGBT+ youth and youth from migrant backgrounds, are forgotten. The lack of a specific and sensitive approach for these groups leads to inequality and inadequate care provision.  For example, it is important to be knowledgeable about the problems faced by young people in vulnerable positions. For example, youth with a migration background are more likely to feel trapped between two cultures, are more likely to be discriminated against, and often feel unwanted. Anti-Islam sentiments also play a role here. Knowing about these issues, for example, makes it easier to build a bond of trust.  For LGBT+ youth, specific attention to their feelings about their gender and sexual orientation can be very important. Unfortunately, action ignorance or shyness on the part of social workers can prevent young people from receiving this attention, thus preventing them from receiving effective counseling or treatment. Another example is the development of new gym facilities that did not take into account accessibility for all, such as inclusive restrooms and low-stimulation gyms. This lack of analysis in policy proposals results in policies that are not fully accessible to all residents and prevents the city council from making informed choices.

The third problem with a “target group-free” approach is that collaboration with the “target group” is necessary to develop effective policies. The analysis of the impact of policies is in advance doomed to failure if all information from the city is not carefully collected. Those Maastricht citizens who would prefer a low-stimulation gymnasium probably do not sign up for a citizens’ meeting. If our ambition is to include all target groups, we will have to approach them much more proactively in a way that appeals to them. Some target groups will benefit from support in self-organization. Others will require more of a “ hands-on” approach. However, ignoring specific groups when formulating policy leads to the imposition of norms and values of the dominant group on others. In addition, it can also make for ineffective solutions because the experiences and challenges of the particular target group are not considered.


Studies on the importance of recognizing target groups

Many studies confirm the need to consider specific aspects, such as gender, culture, or socioeconomic status when developing policies. For example, the Human Rights Board confirmed in September 2023 the importance of gender-sensitive approaches, which is not yet sufficiently present in existing policies. Especially when looking at addressing violence. This also applies to the approach to violence in Maastricht. In the South-Limburg regional vision ‘Violence belongs nowhere 2019-2023’, gender factors are nowhere mentioned in the problem analysis and approach.

Research also shows that target groups are needed in both analysis and policy implementation. The ‘one size fits all’ principle does not do justice to the complexity of individual lifeworlds, where factors such as skin color, class, gender, sexuality, education, and language influence one’s position in society. Current policies in Maastricht disregard the diversity of our society – that is, of differences and their combinations – where multiple forms of inequality or disadvantage create obstacles that are often not understood in conventional ways of thinking. It is also important for participation in policy development to identify and involve target groups. Policies made with target groups for target groups are most effective.


To achieve social justice and equity, different groups in society must be considered within policies. Inclusive policies must be flexible and recognize differences between groups rather than ignoring them. In the current policies and approaches of the Municipality of Maastricht, this is not the case; therefore, inclusion policies are not properly implemented.

Abolishing target group policies has therefore contributed to inequality in Maastricht. It is time to use privilege properly and bring target groups back into the policies of the Municipality of Maastricht. Only in this way can we strive for a just and inclusive society where no one is forgotten.

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