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Cultural and Social Development: Providing the Poor with Financial Support for Leisure Activities

A Case from the North: The Hague, there the Netherlands

For low-income families, treat participation in cultural and social events is a very expensive undertaking. Paying for their basic living costs, such as housing, food and clothing leaves hardly any financial resources for cultural and social activities. In addition to the limitation this imposes on people’s lives and personal development, it also isolates them from the rest of the community. In 1989, the municipality of The Hague introduced the “Stork Pass Initiative,” offering important discounts for poor people’s participation in the social and cultural life of the city. This represents an interesting example of how municipalities may intervene to improve the lives of the poor by offering them discounted access to leisure and culture.

With a population of 442,000 inhabitants, The Hague is the third largest city in the Netherlands. The Social Affairs and Employment Service of The Hague estimate that roughly one third of its citizens, including children, live on a minimum income. This represents approximately 44,000 households, of which a large proportion are immigrants. The Stork Pass cultural programme targets these households giving them the possibility to integrate themselves better in the social and cultural aspects of community life.

The Stork Pass:

The “Stork Pass” is a card that entitles the holder to discounts on a wide range of cultural and social activities such as museums, theatres, cinemas, sport clubs and sport activities, libraries, cultural associations, including music and dance schools, and the purchase of certain magazines. There are also annual excursions organised for “Stork Pass” holders. In order to match the interests of all participants -including children, students and elderly people- the range of activities provided is extremely broad and diversified.

The card is given out free of charge to all families whose earnings are below the minimum income level. As of 1999, people with a slightly higher income and students over the age of 18 are given the possibility to buy the card at a low price (US$ 13). The card gives access to discounts ranging from 50% of the normal price to 100%.

Partners involved:

The “Stork Pass Initiative” is a partnership between the municipality and a number of cultural organisations and institutions, such as museums, cinemas and sports associations. The only criterion for cultural organisations and institutions to participate in the “Stork Pass” programme is that they contribute to the cultural and social life of The Hague. Discounts for the use of taxis, for instance, are not possible.

Financing the “Stork Pass”:

When the project initially took off the Municipal Council of The Hague provided a budget of approximately US$ 430,000 for its implementation. The Social Affairs and Employment Service Department of the municipality approached various cultural organisations and institutions and invited them to participate in the “Stork Pass Initiative.” There was no difficulty in convincing the organisations to join because they were eager to be a part of it. They viewed the “Stork Pass” as a “win-win” situation: everybody had something to gain. The cultural organisations would be reimbursed by the municipality for the discounts. They would also earn extra money from their new customers, who without the card would have probably never been able to participate in such events.

In recent years, the participating organisations have become even more enthusiastic about the project. In 1996 the organisations were approached once more and asked whether they would be willing to subsidise the discounts themselves, rather than relying on the municipality. A large number of them agreed. As a result, the share of the discount paid by the municipality has gradually declined over the years. By 1999 most organisations subsidised 50% of the discounts whereas the municipality paid for the remaining 50%.

The willingness of the cultural organisations to subsidise participation in the events has taken away part of the financial burden from the municipality. Cultural organisations have realised that it is in their own interest to keep the “Stork Pass Initiative” alive and the municipality’s role is gradually diminishing to one of coordination and supervision of the programme. For the implementation of similar kinds of initiatives, contributions from private companies could also be encouraged. Private corporations, in fact, may be willing to sponsor the initiative in order to enhance their image and prove their sensitivity towards social issues.

A success story:

The “Stork Pass Initiative” is a great success. Compared to other Dutch cities that have implemented similar projects the discounts provided by The Hague are some of the highest. The number of pass holders has grown from 1,.000 in 1989 to almost 70,000 ten years later. 70% of them are under the absolute minimum-income level. Over the years, pass holders have also come to use the pass more frequently. Throughout the years numerous organisations and institutions have joined the project; there are now more than 150 possible activities included in the initiative. It is often the organisations themselves that contact the municipality to participate in the initiative. Most importantly, the “Stork Pass” has given low-income families an extraordinary possibility to participate in social and cultural activities – something they would never have had the opportunity to do otherwise.

We thank Mr. Willem van Rij, Mr. Ted Krapels and Mr. Surrendra Santokhi, from the city council of The Hague, for providing us with information about this project.

For more information, please contact:

Mr. Ted Krapels
Head of General Affairs, B04.29 Municipality of The Hague
Social Affairs and Employment Service
PO Box 12610, 2500 DK The Hague, The Netherlands,
phone: (+31 70) 353 7465, fax: (+31 70) 353 74588