The Personal Impact of New Activation Possibilities on Social Assistance Claimants in Norway, Austria and Belgium

Saturday, July 19, 2014: 9:30 AM
Room: F203
Oral Presentation
Erika GUBRIUM , Social Sciences, Oslo and Akershus University College, Oslo, Norway
Bettina LEIBETSEDER , Johannes Kepler University Linz, Linz, Austria
Danielle DIERCKX , University of Antwerp, Antwerp, Belgium
Studies of the psychology of poverty report on the psychosocial barriers – including shame and stigma – that may be experienced in tandem with financial instability within the Scandinavian (Angelin, 2009; Jönsson and Starrin, 2000; Underlid, 2005), Austrian (Die Armutskonferenz, 2008; Leibetseder, 2013) and Belgian settings (Raeymaeckers and Dierckx, 2012). While social assistance may mediate shaming and stigmatisation, it may also exacerbate them, undermining the agency of users. Across Europe, a new emphasis on work activation has taken place within the realm of social assistance. New requirements have been added to a previously established set of social contract entitlements (Lødemel and Moreira, forthcoming, 2014). While new activation approaches may heighten the stigma attached to the socially constructed categories surrounding social assistance, Norway, Austria and Belgium are three settings in which the activation landscape for social assistance has resulted in a publicly promoted offer of more for the claimant. Norway’s approach has been characterised as a best-case scenario for the social assistance claimant and has since the mid-2000s provided those eligible access to programming resembling the human capital development approach more commonly associated with state level unemployment services. In the same period, Belgium has also moved towards active inclusion and tailor-made approaches, as reflected in a pilot project (‘Public Centre of Social Welfare’) with intensified collaboration between the regional employment agency and social assistance authorities. A 2010 federal and provincial agreement in Austria was to provide claimants with better access to jobcentres, but with local responsibility for activation. Drawing on interview data with social assistance claimants, we explore and contrast the personal impact of the approaches in these three settings. The paper highlights the crucial place of the claimant in the evaluation of activation strategies and offers preliminary conclusions concerning its impact on claimants and suggests several lessons to be learned.