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  • Print publication year: 2004
  • Online publication date: December 2009

4 - Workfare in Western Europe


By the late 1990s, the response throughout Western Europe to the “passive” welfare state has been active labor market policies or workfare. Eligibility has to be tightened, benefits have to be made more conditional and there has to be active labor market policies to encourage people to enter or re-enter the labor market. Under the new regime, beneficiaries have obligations as well as rights. In return for benefits, beneficiaries must seek work or participate in work-related activities, including, if appropriate, education and training (Lødemel and Trickey 2001; Boeri, Layard, and Nickel 2000: 9–10). The duty to work – the “job first” principle – has spread throughout European unemployment systems (Ferrera and Rhodes 2000: 4). Workers must be prepared to change occupations, including accepting lower wages (Supiot 2000: 34). “[B]enefit conditionality [has] moved to centre-stage” (Clasen 2000: 89). The reason for this change, says Peter Taylor-Goodby, is that despite the differences in the welfare regimes, paid work continues to remain the most legitimizing basis for entitlement (Taylor-Goodby 2001: 133–147).

The legitimacy point raised by Taylor-Goodby calls attention to the fact that the ideology behind activation is broader than trying to revive the economy, reducing unemployment, and containing welfare state costs. Norway, for example, with no welfare crisis, has adopted workfare (Lødemel 2001: 133). After a considerable expansion of the welfare state, both the Right and the Left agreed that extensive rights to generous benefits threatened the ability to become self-sufficient and that individual responsibilities and obligations are more important than individual rights.