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Activation measures in times of crisis: the role of public works

26/04/2012

The Peer Review focused on the lessons learnt from the programme “Workplace with Stipend Emergency Public Works Programme” (WWS) which was introduced as a crisis measure by the Latvian public authorities in cooperation with the World Bank.

The Ministry of Welfare of the Republic of Latvia, in collaboration with the State Employment Service, hosted a Peer Review in Riga that brought together ministry officials and independent experts from twelve countries (Belgium, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Greece, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and Romania) as well as representatives from DG Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion at the European Commission and the World Bank.

The Workplace with Stipend Emergency Public Works Programme (WWS) was a short-term crisis measure, designed swiftly by Latvian Ministry of Welfare and the State Employment Agency (Latvian PES), in close collaboration with municipalities, and with the World Bank. The aim of the measure was two-fold: firstly, to retain long-term unemployed in the labour market, in order to help them maintain their professional skills and lower the risk of inactivity and social exclusion for them during a period of little or no job creation; and secondly, to strengthen the social safety net in order to reduce the impact and the severe social consequences of the economic crisis. The measure consisted of lower-qualified community jobs (with no specific qualifications required for participation) in municipalities. The jobs had no commercial aims and included tasks such as cleaning, improvement and maintenance of public infrastructure (parks and other public areas), small infrastructure building works (like trails, and benches, in national parks), clean-up of polluted areas (rivers, lakes, forests), work in parks and forests, municipal social services (e.g. assisting the elderly) including in NGOs (and in cooperation with NGOs), municipal institutions (excluding municipal and state enterprises) and a number of state institutions (border guards, social care centres and nature protection (national parks and similar).

An impact evaluation of the Programme was carried out with the World Bank technical assistance, and it confirmed effective targeting, high customer satisfaction and satisfactory administration and implementation, although the programmes scale was small relative to demand. It was found to have a positive effect on work motivation and subjective well-being of the unemployed participants, as well as on maintaining, and in some cases acquiring, work skills. The Programme appeared to mitigate the impact of income shocks and protected households from adopting harmful coping strategies. Local governments reported a positive impact on their budgets and on the social situation in general. The Programme has also contributed to some extent towards reducing unregistered employment.

The WWS Emergency Public Works Programme existed until the end of 2011, when it was replaced by a modified regular Temporary Public Works Programme.

The main conclusions of the Peer Review discussions are summarised as follows:

  • It is important to define the type of measure in relation to a country’s needs, resources and economic structure whether it is a social assistance measure; an activation measure; a job creation measure or a combination of them.
  • Public Works programmes should be implemented without contradicting the existing welfare state. With this in mind, these programmes should be temporary and should not outlive their necessity in order to avoid benefit traps.
  • However, there can be a role for public works post-crisis, in a better performing economy, as long as they are properly targeted; aimed at those who need supported employment (thereby achieving social inclusion aims) and complement other support measures.
  • Fostering a partnership approach at a local level (with the PES, local authorities and the third sector) is a critical factor for the successful delivery of these initiatives. Such partnerships are key as the success of the programmes relies on close cooperation between the stakeholders in the locality. For the local authorities, the networking and knowledge-sharing builds capacity to facilitate delivery of more effective and efficient measures at the local level. For the third sector also, this type of programme can build capacity within the sector and support job creation. Opportunities should also be explored for cooperation with training providers, educational institutions, health authorities and employers.
  • It is essential to maximise the potential value of some public works. Certain types of activity (e.g. the social care and environment sectors) are of value that may not only facilitate entry into the regular labour market but also result in job creation.
  • When working with hard-to-reach groups and long term unemployed people, putting in place individualised action plans has proven successful for activation: training, counselling and peer support activities can also have a role in some public works.
  • There is an identified need for innovation in the policy response to a jobless recovery; this involves exploring the potential role for alternative measures (e.g. supported employee placement schemes) and the mobilisation of resources to innovate.
  • Robust evaluation is essential to provide the evidence to underpin the investment in this type of measure. Evaluation can help identify any potential substitution effects and assess the impact on the employability of the participants, develop recommendations for the design of future programmes and provide feedback to both local actors and policy makers.

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