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Contributing to social inclusion? Implementation and outcomes of the activation of social assistance recipients. The case of Luxembourg

Boek - Dissertatie

In the last three decades activation policies in social assistance provision have gained increasing relevance as a mean to address poverty and social exclusion through paid work. This has driven a considerable academic debate in this respect. However, current studies concerned about the effectiveness of activation within social assistance have often adopted a narrow concept of social inclusion equating it to benefit recipients' integration into (any) paid work and, by doing so, have neglected the importance of the conditions under which this integration occurs (i.e. labour market regulation, adequate pay and security) and the existence of processes of stigmatization that affect the lived experience of social assistance benefit recipients. Furthermore, those studies have neglected the processes of implementation where decisions are taken at the frontline about what is provided to recipients and how. These missing elements are crucial to understand whether paid work - occurring through work-insertion activation measures - can provide recipients with the resources to fully participate in society. This dissertation takes a broad concept of social inclusion and accounts for the fact that activation strategies pursue their integration goal through three main and co-existing logics: a coercive, an investment, and an income redistributive logic.This dissertation aims at looking at the broader implications of activation for social inclusion beyond a narrow view of paid work outcomes, considering labour market regulation, adequate pay and security, and processes of stigmatisation. Secondly, it aims at looking further into the elements contributing to the outcomes of activation, specifically to the implications for social inclusion of work-insertion activation schemes, and at the practices of activation implementation at the front line which shape what individuals on social assistance receive and how. Overall, the empirical work of this study improves our understanding of how activation and its three main logics contribute to the social inclusion of social assistance recipients engaged in activation.Using Luxembourg as a case study, the research focusses on the outcomes and the implementation of activations policies for recipients' of the main social assistance scheme, the Revenu Minimum Garanti. The investigation is carried out through a comprehensive case study of the two main work-insertion activation programs, utilizing a broader range of empirical sources (administrative data, qualitative interviews with activation participants and practitioners in charge of policy implementation) and methods.The main findings confirm that social inclusion is pursued through three main activation logics based on behavioural coercion, on skills and competence investment and service provision, and on income redistribution, mostly in return for paid work. These logics are central in how work-insertion activation instruments are used and in the decisions taken in the process of activation implementation at the front line, in the definition of obligations and service provision based on the recipient' situation, the assignment of recipients to work-insertion measures, and the application of sanctions. While work-insertion measures integrate recipients into paid work providing them earnings at the minimum wage, pension rights and no reimbursement aftermaths, findings also show that integration in public work occurs outside the employment regulation (even in the long term) and this is reported to undermine the possibility for people to participate in society because of the lack of legal employment status and the experience of stigma arising from working for welfare. Findings also show that integration in internships meant to support labour market integration is able to support in the longer term benefit independence and promote permanent employment but not higher earnings or working longer hours.This dissertation points to the need for studies looking at social inclusion as promoted by integration in paid work through work-insertion activation to consider whether these measures are able to provide recipients with the material and symbolical means to be able to participate in society.