Transforming European Employment Policy
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Transforming European Employment Policy

Labour Market Transitions and the Promotion of Capability

Edited by Ralf Rogowski, Robert Salais and Noel Whiteside

Since the mid 1990s, the focus of European employment and social policy has shifted from protection to promotion. This book provides a timely analysis of this new form of governance, and the new forms of policy delivery and audit which accompany it.
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Chapter 7: Reframing the Issue of Responsibility in Labour Market Activation Policies

Jean-Michel Bonvin


1 Jean-Michel Bonvin INTRODUCTION Most activation policies are based on a simplistic conception of responsibility: behaving responsibly boils down to quick reintegration into the labour market. Local welfare agents are called to push beneficiaries to actively endorse this goal. But the issue of responsibility is much more complex and multi-faceted. Drawing on Sen’s capability approach, this chapter suggests that responsibilisation of recipients requires both empowerment programmes improving their employability and the recognition of their real freedom to choose the life and job they have reason to value. Against the present trend toward hypertrophying individual responsibility, it calls for a more equilibrated balance between individual and social responsibility. The objective is not to define an impracticable ideal of responsibility, but to provide an analytical and normative yardstick for assessing activation programmes and reforming them in the direction of what could be labelled ‘capacitation’ strategies. The trend towards activation in contemporary social policies is by now well documented. Departing from the so-called decommodification mission of conventional welfare states, a great variety of reforms were passed in most OECD countries in the last decades with a view to transforming welfare into an instrument of activation (e.g. RMI in France, TANF in the United States, the New Deal programmes in the UK, the Hartz reforms in Germany, etc.). This evolution entails a threefold transformation: a) in contrast with cash benefits widely interpreted as a purely passive device, social expenditure is to be activated and become productive in line with the social investment state. In...

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