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Activation strategies in Swedish welfare policy 1990-2015

The work line is a central political principle and social norm in Sweden, which has been expressed in various strategies for activating the labour force. This means various policies to promote employment and labour market inclusion of groups such as unemployed, young, elderly, sick and disabled. In a comparative international perspective extensive investments in active labour market policies have been particularly prominent in the Swedish work line. However, studies show that since the 1990s spending on active labour market policies have decreased while conditions in social insurances have tightened. These changes have affected more future-oriented investments in Swedish labour market policy. More costly measures, e.g. vocational training, have increasingly been replaced by less expensive measures, e.g. job counseling and job coaching, which are more focused on enhancing employee motivation than employees’ qualifications. One manifestation of this development is "the new work line", i.e. the former center-right government's policy direction in which enhanced work incentives and a larger room for market actors are key components. Said development indicates shifts in national activation strategies over time which to a greater degree needs to be understood and explained.

In comparison with previous studies within the research area the research project will apply more of a holistic perspective on policy changes at the intersection of labour market policies and social protection systems. The research project aims to analyze national activation strategies in labour market policy and social security systems (unemployment and health insurance) from 1990 to 2015, as well as how different activation strategies have been legitimized and questioned by officials and investigators in these policy fields. In addition, the research project aims to deepen the understanding of how different conceptions of human needs, social rights and obligations hereby are expressed.

Data on spending for various labour market policy measures and for health and unemployment insurance systems will be collected and analyzed as well as policy documents published during the period in question. A specific emphasis will be placed on documents published during the time of “the new work line" from 2006 and onwards. Two case studies will also be carried out: studies of key reforms in the new work line and how they have been legitimized and/or questioned by officials and investigators. The first case study relates to the health insurance, and especially its stricter regulations and the introduction of a time limit. The ‘rehabilitation chain’ is studied as a contemporary activation strategy of vulnerable groups in the labour force. The second case study focuses on the unemployment insurance. In particular, the removal of tax subsidies and the introduction of differentiated membership fees are to be studied as hundreds of thousands of members as a consequence of the reform walked out of the unemployment insurance funds.

The results of the research project will be important to gain a deeper understanding of key changes in the transformation of Swedish welfare policy in a time of mass unemployment and fiscal austerity. Researchers emphasize a shift in the welfare state's basic principles in the direction towards increasingly conditional social rights and tougher sanctions – towards a ‘mistrusting welfare state’ – where the individual is increasingly forced to rely on private means and solutions. If the individual experiences that the state no longer keeps its part of the social contract, as understood in the universal ‘social democratic’ welfare state, not only is the individual's quality of life at stake but also the legitimacy of the welfare state.

Funding: The Swedish Research Council (2015-2018)
Project leader: Associate Professor Mattias Bengtsson, mattias.bengtsson@socav.gu.se

Page Manager: Anders Östebo|Last update: 1/20/2015

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