Active, willing and able: Activation policies in Australia, the United Kingdom, Netherlands and Denmark (1990-2007)

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Copyright: Davidson, Peter
This study compares activation policies for long term unemployed people from 1990 to 2007 in Australia, United Kingdom, Netherlands and Denmark. Comparative welfare researchers debate whether activation policies converged or retained distinctive welfare regime features. Some argue activation marked convergence towards the Liberal welfare regime by enforcing labour market participation and bringing market-based governance to employment services. Others argue major differences persisted as activation policies were shaped by different institutional settings such as labour markets and benefit systems. This thesis examines convergence in employment assistance. Using interviews with expert stakeholders, analysis of policy documents and statistical comparisons, it traces key influences on the character of employment assistance for long-term unemployed: whether capacity-building, incentive-strengthening, or income protection. While there was convergence towards a common activation paradigm, employment assistance followed parallel but separate paths. The United Kingdom and Australia, with Liberal welfare regimes, increased investment in capacity-building programs under labour governments then settled on incentive-strengthening approaches. The Netherlands, a hybrid Conservative-Social Democratic regime, pursued modest capacity-building for long-term unemployment insurance recipients and income protection for long-term social assistance clients, but took an incentive-strengthening approach with new social assistance clients. Denmark, a Social Democratic regime, privileged capacity-building for long-term unemployment insurance recipients and income protection for long-term social assistance clients. The following institutional settings underpinned these differences: the benefit structure (unemployment insurance and social assistance), the governance of benefits and employment services (whether corporatist, municipal, or market-based), and labour market structure and dynamics (the speed of labour turnover, share of low-skilled jobs, and different national models of family workforce participation). While the major political parties held consistent preferences for different forms of employment assistance, the political colour of the government was not always decisive. Since the institutions that most influenced activation policy were key building blocks of welfare regimes, these findings help explain both stability, and potential for change, within different regimes.
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Davidson, Peter
Saunders, Peter
Whiteford, Peter
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PhD Doctorate
UNSW Faculty
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