The objective of the Recommendation is to provide Member States with guidance on service delivery in order to increase the rate of transition from long-term unemployment to employment. Specific challenges addressed include: a lack of support for the long-term unemployed to obtain work, which lowers the registration with the Public Employment Services (PES) in some Member States; ensuring that support is relevant to employers' needs and suited to the individual; and the discontinuity in the delivery of services when unemployment benefits end.
DG RTD contributed to the preparation of this policy initiative with scientific evidence provided by projects funded under the 7th Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (projects: COPE, LOCALISE, INSPIRES).
Martin Heidenreich was the coordinator of FP7 projects Combating Poverty in Europe (COPE), Local Worlds of Social Cohesion (LOCALISE). He is Professor of Sociology with special attention to Social Stratification at the Carl von Ossietzky University Oldenburg, Germany. He is Jean-Monnet Chair for European Studies and founding director of the Jean Monnet Centre for Europeanisation and Transnational Regulations (CETRO).
The Commission's initiative for integrating the Long-Term Unemployed (LTU) in the labour market is based on the principle of inclusive activation. You have been the coordinator of two FP7 (COPE, LOCALISE) projects which analysed such public policy approaches in a (European) comparative perspective.
So what are the elements of inclusive activation? And what improvements do they aim to make in the lives of vulnerable citizens (not only LTU)?
Active inclusion, the combination of an adequate income support, inclusive labour markets and the access to quality services, is a well-reasoned strategy which the Commission proposed in 2008. Politically, it implies the extension of activation principles to social assistance recipients (long-term unemployed and other groups), who are more distant from the labour market and who are often characterised by multiple employment barriers (such as low qualifications, health problems, alcoholism, addiction etc.). Therefore, a broad array of social, educational, health and rehabilitation services in addition to classic employment measures (such as training and placement and standard income support) is an indispensable element of the strategy. Social services may comprise provision of care (to children, the sick, the disabled or the elderly), assistance in carrying out daily tasks, rehabilitation programmes, mobility support, assistance with moving houses, vocational training, placement services and job-search assistance, housing benefits, social housing, rehabilitation support for alcohol and drug abusers, counselling, day shelters etc., which focus on the ‘people furthest from the labour market’. These services make – in addition to the necessary income maintenance function which for example does not exist in Italy or Greece – an important contribution to the lives of vulnerable citizens (not only LTU) by supporting their (re-) integration into work or very often also into some kind of assisted social activity which can break their isolation – even if it does not have an explicit employment focus.
A crucial element in the Job Integration Agreements foreseen by the initiative is the closer coordination of social and employment services? How can we make sure that this is going to be implemented?
The administrative competencies and resources required for activating the most disadvantaged groups are highly fragmented. This is a result of the heterogeneous problems faced by the unemployed as well as the varied service responses needed to mitigate them (such as placement services, financial support, education and training, health and psychosocial support, child and elderly care, housing and counselling). Consequently, the following is required:
The question is: What are the necessary and sufficient conditions for a successful reintegration of the LTU in the labour market and society?
It is thus hard to formulate general policy conclusion out of this. Coordination, decentralisation, one-stop shops, the techniques of new public management and marketisation are convincing organisational solutions to the problem of integrating the most disadvantaged groups. But the application of these organisational strategies requires a deliberate focus on the needs, handicaps and capabilities of precisely the most disadvantaged groups in order to avoid exclusion and creaming processes.
Concerning actual implementation I cannot give a definitive answer. I would suggest the development of a paper on organisational strategies which discusses in detail the opportunities and potential risks of the five governance principles just mentioned. In any case, they require a farewell to a solely economically driven activation concept since the cost-benefit analysis of activating the most disadvantaged persons will often be negative.
The initiative aims to establish a better link to the labour market e.g. by better services to employers. In what ways will this assist the integration of the LTU?
A fundamental problem affecting cooperation with employers in relation to reintegrating the long-term unemployed into work is that LTU persons very often have complex problems besides unemployment (e.g. depression, ill health, substance abuse, childcare or other family-related problems, lacking mobility, low or obsolete skills etc. – which is why they remain long-term unemployed in the first place). Hence, employers generally prefer recently unemployed job applicants over long-term unemployed ones (at least whenever they have a choice, i.e. when there is no shortage of labour). According to our interviewees not even wage subsidies are likely to significantly alter these preferences, with the exception perhaps of very low-skilled positions where employers might be incentivised to grant temporary employment contracts to a string of LTU persons, thus benefitting from consecutive wage subsidies but not actually providing sustainable employment. So it would seem that conventional approaches to employer-cooperation cannot help many LTU back into sustainable employment – the gap between the professional/social capacities of long-term unemployed persons and employers’ needs is often simply too large.
Furthermore, it might even be detrimental to the relationship between public employment agencies and employers if the former do not honestly inform the latter about the shortcomings of their LTU clients. As a German caseworker told us: “Some of them are burnt children, they no longer want to take on our long-term unemployed clients”. Hence, when it comes to the specific group of the LTU, we believe that an employer strategy that builds on the following elements would be more promising than conventional job placement strategies:
COPE and LOCALISE have extensively studied potential barriers to the implementation of such innovations in Europe but also success factors.
What are the lessons for European policy makers? And how can we avoid extrapolating from only a small number of success cases?
To begin with your second question, we can unfortunately not guarantee that our findings from 18 European cities/regions in six countries in the LOCALISE project, and five European cities/regions and countries in the COPE project, can be fully generalised. However, the fact that certain policy coordination/implementation problems were evident in various cities and countries indicates that these issues may be of a more general nature and should therefore be tackled not only by national policy-makers but also at the European level. In any case, the idea of representative results based on a high number of cases is misleading in our case. The analysed cities are not independent of each other since the national context has an overarching importance for the local organisation of active inclusion strategies. Therefore, we are confident that our analyses give a good impression of the situation in at least France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Sweden and the UK.
In particular, we found that the link between employment services and social services – the latter of which are vital for the job insertion of LTU – is insufficient in practice; apart maybe from Sweden where universalist social services offer almost everyone access to employment and social services despite the lack of a formal policy link. Hence, a main policy recommendation emanating from LOCALISE and COPE is that employment and social services should be integrated more closely in Europe, not only in policy terms but also, and especially, at the implementation level. For this, new organisational forms (such as decentralisation, one-stop shops, inter-ministerial links, centrally-induced coordination among public, private and/or third-sector local actors etc.) are necessary - apart from sufficient service budgets and flexible funding mechanisms/data-security rules which allow the pooling of resources and the sharing of client information across organisational boundaries. Also a sufficient degree of local discretion in developing holistic services for the LTU may be helpful, possibly assisted by measures that facilitate the development and dissemination of integrated service measures at the local level (e.g. the central evaluation and dissemination of “best practices”, special performance targets for the labour market or societal integration of LTU, etc).
Another important point is that unemployed persons with multiple social problems need tailor-made, personalised services that focus not only on labour market integration, but also on other social problems. Personalisation was, at least in the five local entities under study in the COPE project, most successful in those cases where social workers were involved in the process, in addition to (or even instead of) caseworkers from the employment services. However, personalisation must not only be a question of personal resources and individual commitment, but should also be enabled by institutional structures such as good qualifications, clear competence structures, stable employment conditions for caseworkers/social workers, and sufficient financial resources (especially in order to ensure a good client/caseworker ratio and a broad portfolio of “enabling” social and employment services).
Finally, at the European level policy-makers should ensure that EU policy initiatives and ESF funds trigger sustainable service integration structures down to the local level. This might be achieved by establishing local multi-stakeholder observatories that serve not only as policy development platforms but also as communication channels between policy practitioners and the EU.
In your experience as coordinator of two FP7 SSH projects what can the social sciences teach policy makers about inclusive activation? What is their value-added when it comes to designing policies for the vulnerable?
One possible lesson would be that there is no “one best way” to the labour market and societal integration of the most vulnerable groups. We have tried to show this by identifying five components of an “ideal” active inclusion strategy: Coordination, decentralisation, one-stop shops, the techniques of new public management and marketisation. All these strategies may be effectively and sometimes even efficiently used for the integration of the most disadvantaged groups, but it is also always possible to use these organisational strategies or governance instruments in a way that leads to exclusion and creaming processes.