Regulatory Compliance and Enforcement Challenges in Social Policy

… a core concept in Socioeconomic and Political Context and Atlas105

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Concept description

Within the realm of social policy, ensuring, tracking, and enforcing compliance with regulations intended to reduce inequities present challenges.

Using regulations to achieve policy goals presents compliance and enforcement challenges in all policy areas in all countries. (See Using Regulation-Based Policy Instruments.) Indeed, the OECD has a suite of studies, committees, and toolkits devoted to regulatory policy (see

The OECD (2000, reference below) provides three categories of explanations for differing degrees of compliance with regulations:

  • The degree to which the target group knows of and comprehends the rules.
  • The degree to which the target group is willing to comply – either because of economic incentives, positive attitudes arising from a sense of good citizenship, acceptance of the policy goals, or pressure from enforcement activities.
  • The degree to which the target group is able to comply with the rules.

and admonishes member governments:

“A common assumption is that the target group will be aware of, and understand how to comply with a rule when it is published. However, rapid increases in the complexity and volume of new regulations can make this basic assumption unrealistic. The responsibility of policymakers does not end with publication of the rule. New rules may need to be accompanied by information campaigns to ensure that they are brought to the notice of and made comprehensible to the target group. A focus on the feasibility of compliance is also needed. For small businesses in particular, the burden of assimilating and complying with many complex and technical rules can be unreasonable and undermine confidence in regulators and the regulatory structure. Governments have a clear long-term interest in maintaining positive attitudes toward the regulatory system among citizens and businesses, since these attitudes largely determine the level of “voluntary compliance”. Enforcement cannot substitute for low levels of voluntary compliance. In the longer-term, widespread non-compliance will undermine respect for the rule of law.”

Regulation and social attitudes

Regulations that have as their intent to change social attitudes face particular challenges in compliance and enforcement. For example, in their study of the limited impact of regulations on improving the employment and earnings of persons with disabilities in the United States, Michelle Maroto and David Pettinicchio (2014, reference below) write:

“In the late-2000s, Congress acknowledged the ADA’s failure in improving the economic well-being of people with disabilities. At the hearings regarding the ADA Restoration Act, the unintended harm and judicial resistance arguments surfaced once more. Proponents of the new legislation framed their argument around judicial undermining of the ADA, while opponents argued that what they saw as expansion of the ADA through these amendments would have a further negative impact on employment. Testimony also alludes to a growing overlap between the arguments used to explain economic well-being following the ADA and the more political ideological perspectives regarding the role of government in regulating work.

“Disability has faced some unique political challenges. It is clear that early on, political entrepreneurs had the language of the 1964 Civil Rights Act in mind when it came to drafting disability antidiscrimination legislation. But, rather than being integrated into a comprehensive civil rights agenda, disability rights policy took a separate parallel course. Today, important differences exist in the laws governing disability employment discrimination (and their interpretation and application) and those governing sex or race discrimination. It is plausible to assume that a separate disability rights policy framework, while perhaps better suited for addressing specific needs, has made it easier for the courts to narrow the impact of the law. Limited enforcement and judicial interpretations of disability antidiscrimination legislation have led to disparate outcomes. One such outcome, as our analysis suggests, is that potential underlying causes for the continuing gaps in employment and earnings – namely, attitudes – have not markedly changed over time. Many scholars and activists agree that changing norms and attitudes in the workplace and beyond was an important objective of the ADA … [but] the case of disability antidiscrimination legislation raises more fundamental questions about whether it is the government’s obligation to change these attitudes while ensuring equal opportunity for its citizens to work and how might it effectively do that.”

Social attitudes that are based on deeply held values (see Morality Policy) are particularly resistant to regulatory interventions.

Atlas topic, subject, and course

The Study of the Socioeconomic Context for Politics and Policy (core topic) in Socioeconomic and Political Context and Atlas105.


OECD (2000), Reducing the Risk of Policy Failure – Challenges for Regulatory Compliance, at, accessed 27 December 2018.

Michelle Maroto and David Pettinichio (2014), The Limitations of Disability Antidiscrimination Legislation: Policymaking and the Economic Well-being of People with Disabilities, Law & Policy, Vol 36, No. 4, October 2014, at, accessed 28 October 2018.

Page created by: Alec Wreford and Ian Clark, last modified on 28 December 2018.

Image: OECD Regulatory policy, at, accessed 28 December 2018.