FRANCESCO MARÍA CHIODI
FRANCESCO MARIA CHIODI
Ítalian- Latin American Institute – Social Policies Area Coordinator – EUROsociAL II
Made official in 2008, the European Strategy for Active Inclusion is the eventual result of a wide debate and of a political route followed by European countries. Therefore, it also represents a composition of different political traditions and schools of thought. In accordance with the Recommendation of the European Commission issued in 2008, the Strategy rests on three pillars or dimensions of inclusion: (a) adequate income support; (b) labour markets that facilitate the incorporation into and (c) access to quality services. Another important aspect of the Strategy is that the three pillars are not to be considered as separated, or parallel; in fact, they must be implemented in an integrated way.
There are three main reasons accounting for the importance of an integrated development of the three pillars of the Strategy. The first reason is logic and rests on empirical evidence: to act simultaneously on three fronts produces a virtuous circle, wherein each one strengthens the others, thus achieving a more functional global effect. The second and equally decisive reason is that social inclusion may be defined only and if the three factors (suitable income, decent work and access to quality services) are simultaneously present: none of these factors exhausts or single-handedly coincides with the condition of “inclusion”. The third reason is related to the insufficiency of the first pillar in the absence of the second one, and of the two first pillars in the absence of the third.
The first pillar concerns income support. It must be understood that here the object is the human person as such, not an unemployed worker. Furthermore, the Recommendation defines this support as “adequate”. This adjective comes from the legal basis of the pillar, which is expressed by the Recommendation in the following terms: “[recognize] the individual’s basic right to resources and social assistance sufficient to lead a life that is compatible with human dignity as part of a comprehensive, consistent drive to combat social exclusion.” The legal, political and symbolic strength of the first pillar is crucial, since it affirms that active inclusion rests on the existence of a right, not on the decisions of governments with different visions of the future.
It should be mentioned that 26 of the 28 countries that make up the European Union have adopted some form of minimum income scheme, that is monetary support provided to people with incomes below the poverty line. Many differences can be observed from one country to another as regards eligibility requirements, cost of cash benefits, coverage and other elements. Nevertheless, at all events its goal is to guarantee minimum incomes, or rather economic security. By the same token, such measures are assigned to the solidary pillar of social protection, being funded by general revenues and thus not entailing contributory requirements. Generally, their actual benefit is subject to the means test and it includes some conditionalities, mainly the adhesion to programmes for the (re)integration into the working world. The second pillar of the Strategy is based on the conviction that employment is the most effective tool to fight poverty. Hence the appeal to adopt “arrangements covering persons whose condition renders them fit for work to ensure they receive effective help to enter or re-enter and stay in employment that corresponds to their work capacity.” A Resolution issued by the European Parliament in 2010 specifies the deeper meaning of the combination between minimum income and measures for employment: “the real aim of minimum income schemes should not only be to assist but also to support beneficiaries so as to enable them to move from a situation of social exclusion to a working life.” We should also keep in mind that the rise in unemployment during the current economic crisis is the main cause of the increased risk of poverty and exclusion in Europe. That is one of the reasons why minimum income support is conceived as a temporary benefit. In point of fact, the final objective is employment.
The connection between minimum income support and employment is another element that induces us to question the assistential drifts of welfare, and it is one of the proposed adjustments of social protection within a context where financial sustainability problems are becoming ever more serious. Both these trends have influenced welfare schemes in very different ways; however, they converge on one point: the will to shift from a passive to an active welfare, from a model that emphasizes protection and assistance to a new logic that may boost people’s independence and overcome situations of critical need, essentially through a complete integration into the labour market.
The prominence attributed to occupational objectives in socio-assistential policies is also consistent with the ever growing (since the 1990s) attention paid to the issues of competitiveness and economic growth.
The Strategy reaffirms an orientation shared by almost all European countries: to subject the provision of minimum income to the participation in active policy programmes. Therefore the general (or ideal) diagram of operations establishes that beneficiaries of minimum income support will be assisted by employment services through actions aimed at their orientation, capacitation, mediation, and accompaniment towards laboural integration, among other things. Anglo-Saxon countries have given greater weight to the penalizing component of the diagram, making eligibility criteria stricter and increasing the number of controls to ascertain the beneficiaries’ actual willingness to work, as well as reducing the overall expenditure for monetary benefits. Conversely, Scandinavian countries, although they do not exclude the logic of conditionalities, give greater importance to the right to an income, to social integration, and they are more attentive to the kind and quality of the jobs offered.
In the Strategy for Active Inclusion the link between income support and assistance for laboural integration is enriched and inscribed into a wider horizon through its third pillar. The Recommendation urges Member States to take “every measure to enable those concerned, in accordance with the relevant national provisions, to receive appropriate social support through access to quality services.”
To realize the importance of the third pillar and of its integration with the first two, we need to take into account the void left by policies aimed at the social inclusion of receivers of minimum income support when such policies are wholly aimed at laboural integration measures.
Such a failure is demonstrated by two circumstances. Firstly, current measures for minimum income cover only in part the paucity of the incomes earned in beneficiary families. Secondly, getting a job does not erase the risk of poverty, even if the job has been obtained thanks to the support provided by the appointed services or other activation measures. As a matter of fact, integration into the labour market may encourage companies to offer underpaid, precarious, and unsuitable jobs.
Again, the incentives granted to companies to facilitate hiring in the weakest sectors of the labour market may lead to a paradoxical situation where people who are most in need of protection become even more marginalized, thus reproducing the initial inequalities among beneficiaries. This may imply a proliferation of underpaid jobs, entailing in its turn an increase of poverty and of the phenomenon of the working poor.
Our last remarks bring us back to a fundamental question of the “occupationalist” trend now prevailing in minimum income schemes. When we have to deal with poor unemployed people, their inactivity should not be interpreted sic et simpliciter as a sign of passivity or unwillingness. To exacerbate the link between minimum income support and activation in the working world, assumed as a strict conditionality, may bring us to put the blame on the main victims of different and related situations, as the scarce demand for employment.
To conclude, measures for laboural activation combined with minimum income support may prove unable to facilitate a durable exit from poverty and social exclusion. Even in employment recovery cycles, when the context is more favourable, there are still some risks to be considered: the poor may obtain scarce benefits or the laboural integration of minimum income recipients may end up generating only a marginal participation in the labour market, with unsteady and underpaid jobs. At all events, to improve the chances for success of such measures it will be necessary to provide for a strong flexibility. This means the possibility to customized responses, according to the case management method. This responses will be ad hoc and they will involve the different aspects determining in each instance a specific condition of poverty or exclusion, based on the assumption that lack of jobs or lower incomes are generally the causes and effects of wider and more complex situations.
It is in this perspective that the third pillar of the Strategy for Active Inclusion acquires its utmost importance. The provision of services to persons turns into the cornerstone of a new welfare system. In the past it was possible to favour monetary benefits for assistential purposes, today the paradigm of social investment is shifting towards services as the gravitational centre of welfare. Without relinquishing its traditional protective functions, when it is necessary to use them, the “new” service welfare must accompany them, provided this is possible, with actions able to generate, restore or strengthen human capital: “social aid services, employment and training services, support of housing and social housing, child care services, long-term care services, and healthcare services […].” The intent underlying this typology of services is to move the axis of activities towards a more global and holistic strategy, so as to respond to essentially heterogeneous questions. Apparently, the Strategy for Active Inclusion goes far beyond the “welfare to work” approach, which is limited to the laboural dimension and to the services for occupational integration.