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eight - The active society and activation policy: ideologies, contexts and effects

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 January 2022

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Summary

This chapter focuses on the role of activation policy in the active society and especially on the employment and social integration effects of the Danish active line in labour market and social policy. First, the concepts of the active society and activation are investigated. Second, it is shown how the idea of the active society and activation is put into practice in different ways depending on particular ideological and institutional settings. Third, a closer look is taken of the Danish active line which has been promoted as ‘best practice’ since in the 1990s by the OECD and EU Commission in the field of labour market and social policies. Fourth, the employment and social integration effects of the Danish active line are investigated. Finally, in conclusion some of the most important lessons from the Danish case are highlighted.

The active society and activation

The overall aim of the politics of the active society is to promote active and self-reliant citizens. There is a widespread consensus among the OECD and EU countries about the blessings of the active society. The active society is perceived as the best or only way of combating poverty and social exclusion (OECD, 1990). Influenced by recommendations from the OECD (1994) and the European Commission (1997) the call for a shift from passive income transfer payments to active employment measures within social protection systems has become more and more popular. However, it would be a mistake to argue that the active society has replaced the welfare society. It seems more reasonable to argue that there is a growing emphasis on governing society through activating the individual in numerous ways – preferably through labour-market participation, but also through voluntary social and community work.

The concept of an active society is, however, a very imprecise one, which embraces very different approaches of whom to make active and on what terms. Although the values and practices that national policies are based on vary greatly across national welfare states, one common and clear notion in the concept of the active society is self-reliance. Self-reliance is a dominating element in the reshaping of social policy (Halvorsen, 1998). To be self-reliant one normally has to work. Accordingly, one of the cornerstones of the active society is an activation policy.

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The Changing Face of Welfare
Consequences and Outcomes from a Citizenship Perspective
, pp. 135 - 150
Publisher: Bristol University Press
Print publication year: 2005

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