The Active Inclusion discourse in times of economic recession

Amitsis, Gabriel (2014). 'The Active Inclusion discourse in times of economic recession' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, 2-5 September 2014, Athens, Greece.

At the mid of 2014 at least 120 millionEUcitizens (nearly a quar­ter of the EU population)were at risk of poverty and social exclusion,and unem­ployment remains very high.About 43 million people were unable to meet their basic needs, 32 million lived in jobless households, 26 million were unemployed and 4 million were homeless.

The economic crisis has led to new risks and challenges as it now affects strongly and the middle classes, which had been traditionally - by payment of social security fees and income taxes - the main funding source for national social protection policies (social insurance and welfare), while their purchasing power used to ensure high levels of private consumption of products and services. Long-term and youth unemployment marginalise big sections of the labour force, while financial exclusion (lack of access to basic banking services) and high loans (overindebtedness) stand in the way of employment and sound enterpreneurship. Lack of decent housing and strong discriminations to accessing basic goods and services lead to extreme deprivation, while energy poverty creates risks to meet subsistence needs.

Furthermore, nation-wide social protection systems are being more vulnerable to horizontal fiscal constraint strategies and public opinion is asking for more transparency in managing social expenditures for vulnerable groups (mainly welfare beneficiaries). In this light, social policy regulators and decision-makers are facing internal reform challenges in their quest to meet and combine the 'ambiguous' demands for social benefits' sustainability and sufficiency, as the need to strike a sound balance between growth and austerity policies is exerting great pressure from the outside.

This Paper focuses on the development of the Active Inclusion discourse in times of economic recession and its contribution to the integration of persons at high risk of poverty and social exclusion. The active inclusionmodel is chosen as a fundamental mechanism for strengtheningthe effective­ness and efficiency of national social policies against poverty and social exclusion.

The Paperwill discuss the main ideological, regulatory and operational trajectories of this challenging discourse in Europe, addressing the role of the European Union as the coordinator of nationalActiveInclusion Strategies.Active inclusion strategies are the way to help integrate those who can work into sustainable, quality employ­ment, and provide those who cannot with enough resources to live in dignity. They do this by removing the remaining obstacles preventing people from work­ing and participating in society. A key feature of such strategies is investing in social policies, services and cash ben­efits which activate people and enable them to develop their skills and obtain an adequate standard of living. This approach has been agreed at EU level, and combines three mutually reinforc­ing strands:

  • Providing adequate, well-designed income support for those who need it, while helping them back into jobs, e.g. by linking out-of-work and in-work benefits;

  • Ensuring inclusive labour markets and employment policies that address the needs of those least likely to get a job, by tackling workplace discrimination and removing barriers to labour mar­ket participation such as inflexible work arrangements and unaffordable care services; and

  • Providing quality social services to sup­port active social participation.

In this respect, the Paper will also deal with the institutional framework of thediscourse at the EU level, discussing the performance of existing instruments in both primary and secondary European law (i.e. Treaties, Council binding legislation and Commission Communications) as well as new non-binding governance methods developed under the Lisbon process (i.e. Open Method of Coordination). It will also address issues about the 'judicial empowerment' of the discourse, presenting scenarios on the future development of hard and soft law paradigms within the revised EU Social Protection and Social Inclusion Agenda (i.e. Equal treatment in access to welfare, Activation of vulnerable people,Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived, Programme for Employment and Social Innovation, Minimum Income Guarantee, Social Economy etc) during the economic crisis.

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