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Activation Measures – Social Inclusion or Forced Labour? : Experiences of long-term unemployed participants in the city of Rauma

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Title: Activation Measures – Social Inclusion or Forced Labour? : Experiences of long-term unemployed participants in the city of Rauma
Author(s): Ikonen, Jaakko
Contributor: University of Helsinki, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Social Research
Discipline: Social and Public Policy
Language: English
Acceptance year: 2017
The political focus in addressing unemployment has slowly shifted from large supply-side solutions towards activation, which aims to guide the unemployed into employment as swiftly as possible by increasing the responsibilities of welfare recipients and reforming the terms of social aid and the service system in order to promote a more active and self-reliant approach among citizens. Reforms concerning unemployment policies and welfare are controversial, as proven by political debates, various movements visible especially on social media and academic works looking at the paradoxes of activation. This study produces an account on the ways in which the subjects of activation policies and practices, i.e. the long-term unemployed, approach the policies by answering the following research questions: 1.) What meaning do activation policies and particularly work-based activation measures have in the lives of the long-term unemployed? 2.) Do the long-term unemployed generally consider work-based activation measures beneficial and legitimate in their situation? The aim is to find out how activation policies are positioned in regards to the subjects' views on their own unemployment and place in society. Answering the second research question will show the perceived utility the long-term unemployed hold for these policies, which have stated aims such as increasing labour-market integration and combating marginalisation, and present prevailing attitudes towards the obligatory nature of activation and conditionality of welfare The perspective of the unemployed in this study is provided through eleven in-depth research interviews conducted with long-term unemployed participants from the city of Rauma, the frontrunner of current Finnish activation policies. Transcribed interviews were analysed through qualitative content analysis, which is used to produce a condensed description of the researched phenomenon. The theory of social marginalisation is central to this study and the accounts of the long-term unemployed are analysed against this context. Most of the respondents approach activation measures through the content and structure they produce. Activation provides a platform for social interaction and acts as a replacement source for the social aspects associated with paid employment. A majority consider activation measures to serve the general purpose of promoting inclusion in society. Most of the respondents oppose forced participation in activation measures and the conditionality of unemployment benefits. This study contributes insights into the role social marginalisation has in determining an individual's approach to activation measures. Those respondents who could be considered to be marginalised, especially in terms of reduced social participation, hold activation measures in high regard and consider them to be more beneficial than those respondents who are content with their level of social participation and generally cope quite well with prolonged unemployment. In other words, activation measures seem more attractive to those closer to social marginalisation. An alarming finding of this study is that while many participants are satisfied with taking part in activation measures, this activation does not help them towards their objective of finding employment. The respondents share a desire to find paid work but don't see how participating in active labour market policies will benefit them in this field.

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