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Different routes, common directions? Activation policies for young people in Denmark and the UK

Lindsay, Colin and Mailand, Mikkel (2004) Different routes, common directions? Activation policies for young people in Denmark and the UK. International Journal of Social Welfare, 13 (3). pp. 195-207.

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This article analyses and compares the development of activation policies for young people in Denmark and the UK from the mid-1990s. Despite their diverse welfare traditions and important differences in the organisation and delivery of benefits and services for the unemployed, both countries have recently introduced large-scale compulsory activation programmes for young people. These programmes share a number of common features, especially a combination of strong compulsion and an apparently contradictory emphasis on client-centred training and support for participants. The suggested transition from the ‘Keynesian welfare state’ to the ‘Schumpeterian workfare regime’ is used as a framework to discuss the two countries’ recent moves towards activation. It is argued that while this framework is useful in explaining the general shift towards active labour-market policies in Europe, it alone cannot account for the particular convergence of the Danish and British policies in the specific area of youth activation. Rather, a number of specific political factors explaining the development of policies in the mid-1990s are suggested. The article concludes that concerns about mass youth unemployment, the influence of the ‘dependency culture’ debate in various forms, cross-national policy diffusion and, crucially, the progressive re-engineering of compulsory activation by strong centre-left governments have all contributed to the emergence of policies that mix compulsion and a commitment to the centrality of work with a ‘client-centred approach’ that seeks to balance more effective job seeking with human resource development. However, attempts to combine the apparently contradictory concepts of ‘client-centredness’ and compulsion are likely to prove politically fragile, and both countries risk lurching towards an increasingly workfarist approach.