By adoption of the Lisbon strategy in 2000 EU undertook, among other tasks, very ambitious plans for eradication of poverty and social exclusion. Despite relatively favourable economic conditions, existing up to 2008, the goals were not achieved or were only partially fulfilled. Characteristic of this period is the opinion that increased employment will crucially contribute to eradication of poverty and social exclusion. In a large number of European countries, this in fact did not happen.
In 2008 European commission developed the so-called «Active inclusion strategy» in order to help those excluded from active life, unemployed and those who are without means to live in dignity to support their active integration in life and work in their local settings (EC, 2008).
Active inclusion strategy is based on three interconnected, yet independent stands:
- adequate income support,
- inclusive labour market and
- access to quality services.
The strategy demands an integrated approach and is inclusive in nature, which are its key strengths.
In 2010 EU launched Europe 2020 strategy. Its primary objective is »smart, sustainable and inclusive growth«. For the first time, the strategy clearly defines aims concerning fight against poverty that would diminish the number of people living below the poverty threshold in Europe for at least 20 million.
In 2013, European commission complemented the active inclusion strategy by the “Social investment approach”. The essence of the new approach is that expenditures on social protection are not seen as a “cost” but as an investment for future development. The argument for such a policy is the finding that early and effective investment in education and further human capital development, health care and different social services are success factors of economic development and combat with the economic crisis. Numerous studies show that the expenditure associated with social exclusion are more expensive and not as efficient than the early investment in human capital.
Three pillars of the active inclusion strategy
ADEQUATE INCOME SUPPORT – MINIMUM INCOME
Minimum income is intended for those who are unemployed and without the means for sustenance. It represents one of fundamental social rights and is a cornerstone of the welfare state and European social model. Crucial challenges for most member states who implemented minimum income encounter are:
- adequacy of the minimum income; often minimum income is too low to allow for »decent life« or cannot cover all basic needs (goods and services) of an individual or a family,
- application process is sometimes too complicated and incomprehensible, which results non take up,
- the right to receive minimum income often do not includes additional stimulus or does not cover expenses of active job seeking.
Access to quality services
Access to quality general services and specially such services as health care, education and vocational training, child care and eldercare, is essential when ensuring basic human rights and dignity and social inclusion .
EU discerns between services of »general interest« and other services. Services of the so-called general interest are of vital importance in most people’s lives. They include »services of general economic interest«, of an economic character and regulated in a certain degree (energy, transport, and telecommunication), and »social services of general interest«, which are in the public interest as well however are of social character and are related to welfare and social protection (obligatory social insurance systems, personal social services, employment and training services, long-term care, child care, social housing etc.).
It is crucial that both types of services are available and accessible to most of the public. To successfully apply active inclusion strategy it is therefore important that the socially disadvantaged are ensured access to quality economic and social services.
Access to employment – inclusive labour market
Quality employment and the possibility of ensuring regular employment status are decisive for an effective social inclusion and economic independence. In the past years the approach of »employment first« was favoured too much in the EU area, with no regard for the quality of employment available mostly to recipients of social transfers. That work is to be accepted »at any cost«, is a one-dimensional perception of employment and is opposed to the basics of active inclusion strategy.The strategy therefore stresses especially the activation programmes, based on human rights principles, access to quality employment, and long-term support to those who had been excluded from the labour market and lifelong learning. It is important to realise that the longer the exclusion from the labour market lasts, the more difficult and demanding the return to work is. An individualised approach, based on a coordinated and job search, counselling, and vocational training is consequently a key to success.
Efficient implementation of active inclusion strategy
According to the proposal of Active inclusion strategy EU member states should prepare their own comprehensive national strategies, based on the foundations of active inclusion strategy. They are to be elaborated on the local, regional and national level. Certain systemic changes need to be executed as the prerequisite for their successful implementation:
- Establishing entry points to simplify access to services and incomes intended to the socially excluded, together with connecting employment services providers with providers of social benefits and personal services;
- Simplifying access to social rights and services;
- Establishing integrated information systems to warrant an individualised and integrated approach and to eliminate duplication and ineffectiveness of systems involved in resolving social distress of the socially excluded;
- Simplifying the collaboration and coordination of local, regional, and national authorities.
In most member states, young and elderly unemployed (the rate of unemployment and social exclusion among the young in the EU is especially worrying), migrants and members of ethnical minorities, people of low education and qualification levels, and people with disabilities, mental and other chronic illnesses, or with difficult conditions in the family, are at largest risk of social exclusion and poverty.
Additionally, most individuals belonging to groups listed above typically experience certain personal circumstances, such as lack of motivation and work habits, lack of life and social skills, and possibly also reluctance to work, related to receiving various types of »benefits and subventions«. Local and regional factors, such as distance, poor communal structure and transport connections of certain, mostly rural areas often complement these reasons. Together with lack of work and distinct selectivity of employers it becomes clear, how difficult and complex the employment and social integration of the long-term unemployed and socially excluded is.
Possible approaches to successful active inclusion
As numerous examples show, the best approach to the socially excluded is one that focuses on an individual and their specific qualities, that is to say the individualised approach, based on continuity and »early« intervention, one that is comprehensive and does not target the employability or job activation only. This points to the importance of a regular contact between an individual taking part in active inclusion programme and a single expert/key person to collaboratively shape a long-term plan of support and cooperation with clearly defined aims. The key prerequisite for successful implementation of such programmes is a realistic possibility of future employment or of a different type of active inclusion, which is why partnership with employers and local communities is of outstanding importance.
Support partnerships for the socially excluded
Apart from appropriate approach on the individual level active partnerships with several other stakeholders should be formed, as this is the only way to overcome the obstacles of effective employment and social integration of those on the margins of society. This is essential for successful social inclusion and employment of long-term social transfer recipients. Private providers should be allowed to develop in situations where appropriate public services are not provided, on the condition that their services are of the same availability, accessibility and quality as those of the public systems. All providers should be oriented towards clearly measurable goals of their services.
When developing suitable partnership a particular task is to improve cooperation with employers, especially to diminish their prejudices of employing social transfer recipients and those excluded from the labour market for longer periods. Different approaches are possible, depending on the size of the employer or the way their human resources departments are organized.
Those who have had success in combating unemployment and social exclusion confirm that the most successful approaches are based on intense, individually tailored programmes, depending on mutual obligations and commitments. It is of outmost importance, that solutions are linked to local environment and particularities of local labour market, without forgetting the possibilities and opportunities of social entrepreneurship. Lack of quality jobs offered by »traditional« employers is a key problem, recognized by all involved in the field of social inclusion. In addition to cooperating intensively and innovatively with the existent employers it is therefore also important to expand possibilities of new forms of employment in the social economy, including the forms of activities not directly connected to employment.
SLOVENIAN EXPERIENCE IN SOCIAL INCLUSION APPROACH
In the year 2010 Slovenian parliament adopted The Social Benefits Act and The Exercise of Rights to Public Funds Act. Key novelties of the new legislation were very much in line with social inclusion approach:
- More adequate income support (increase of minimum income as a base for social transfers – based on a study on minimum life costs from 2009)
- More focus on activation of long-term recipients capable of work and concrete incentives for work and active search for solutions to one’s problems (activity supplement for beneficiaries of social transfers).
- Improvement of access to some social services for the recipients of social transfers
In other words the aim of the reform was to increase the adequacy of income support of unemployed beneficiaries of social assistance, to encourage and support their entry into the labor market and to improve their access to various social services.
Centers for social work have become a single entry point for exercise of rights under the new legislation. Implementation of new social legislation, before which a huge preparation process was carried out, started on 1th of January 2012.
One of the characteristics of the new legislation is also that it requires obligatory cooperation of employment offices and centres of social work with the individual recipients in defining the problems and possible solutions. In accordance with this a special protocol of cooperation between the two institutions, was adopted.
At the end of 2013, a pilot project of activation of long term recipients of social transfers named ”Encouraging inactive people who are long time away from the labor market, to re-enter the labor market with in-depth individual and group support” started. Key objectives of program were:
- to increase social inclusion of participants of project,
- to empower and motivate participants of project for increasing flexibilityand employability
- to support return of participants to thelabor market,
Professionals of the employment service and social work centers have prepared a indicative list of candidates for the project. This was followed by four modules, which were carried by selected contractors. The four module were:
- MotivationalWorkshopwith the finalselection ofproject participants
- Assessment of needs carried out in small groups and individually
- Workshops foreffective entry into thelabor market(dealing withcircumstancesthat preventindividualsreturn to thelabor market)
- Monitoring andSupport of participantin the implementation ofthe further activities
At the very beginning the pilot has included over 4,000 beneficiaries of which less than 10 percent successfully entered fourth module.
Due to the high dropout of participants, the project was terminated after few months. This was followed by its evaluation.
According to evaluation the key reasons for the relative failure of the project were:
- inadequatecoordination betweenemployment servicesandsocial work centers,
- extremely demanding group of users involved in the project (the average duration of unemployment was more than five years, average age higher than 50 years, accompanied with severe health and disability difficulties) which resulted low motivation,
- too much emphasis onemploymentexits andnottoother forms ofsocial integration,
On the basis of the findings of evaluation a special expert team is preparing a new project which will be partly financed from the European Social Fund.
Reported example clearly shows that large-scale projects of social integration should be thoroughly planned with the participation of different stakeholders. It should be emphasized that in the same time a number of smaller projects, which have proven to be much more successful, was also carried out.
Basic goal of active inclusion strategy, according to EC, was to help people who are out of work and are not included in the society to participate fully in economic, social and cultural life and to enjoy a standard of living and well-being that is considered normal in the society in which they. This strategy was followed by social investment approach which also calls for modernisation and innovative approach in the field of social protection. Despite the noticeable shift in some Member States, in general, the number of unemployed and those living below the poverty risk has increased since 2008.
It is becoming clear that strict austerity measures related to social protection have proved as an inadequate response to the crisis. Further implementation of the inclusion approach, social investment, innovation and modernisation in social protection are essential for the preservation and development of social protection in the EU.
Creation of the comprehensive national, regional and local strategies to fight poverty and social exclusion which are related to the effective use of financial resources from various European funds and their continuous monitoring are crucial for well being of those out of work.
THE SOURCES USED
- SOCIAL INVESTMENT PACKAGE , COMMISSION STAFF WORKING DOCUMENT
Follow-up on the implementation by the Member States of the 2008 European Commission recommendation on active inclusion of people excluded from the labour market – Towards a social investment approach SWD (2013) 39 final , Brussels, February 2013
COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMISSION TO THE EUROPEAN
PARLIAMENT, THE COUNCIL, THE EUROPEAN ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL
COMMITTEE AND THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS
Towards Social Investment for Growth and Cohesion – including implementing the
European Social Fund 2014-2020
PES to PES Dialogue Peer Review
“Peer Review on PES approaches for sustainable integration of long-term unemployed”, Brussesls 2014
Tackling Long-Term Unemployment Amongst Vulnerable Groups, OECD, June 2013
Active Inclusion: Making It Happen!, EAPN, September 2011
Davor Dominkuš currently holds the position of Secretary in the Cabinet of the Minister at
the Slovenian Ministry of Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities. Most of Mr
Dominkuš’s career has been associated with the fields of social welfare, education, vocational
rehabilitation and employment. He has been involved in the preparation of national strategic documents
related to the fight against poverty and social exclusion and active ageing from 2002 onwards.
Mr Dominkuš is a representative of the Republic of Slovenia in the Social Protection Committee (European Commission).