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Activation Policies for the Unemployed, the Right to Work and the Duty to Work


Edited By Elise Dermine and Daniel Dumont

Since the 1990s and the 2000s, Western social protection systems have experienced a turn towards activation. This turn consists of the multiplication of measures aimed at bringing those who are unemployed closer to participation in the labour market. These measures often induce a strengthening of the conditions that must be met in order to receive social benefits.
It is in this well known context that the authors gathered in this book decided to take a closer look at the relationship between activation policies for the unemployed and the right and the duty to work. If activation measures are likely to increase transitions towards the labour market, we can also make the assumption that they may, particularly when they are marked with the seal of coercion, hinder or dramatically reduce the right to freely chosen work. In such circumstances, the realisation of the «right to work», which is often stated to be the aim of those who promote activation, tends in practice to be reduced to an increasing pressure being exerted on the unemployed. In this case, isn’t it actually the duty to work that is particularly reinforced?
After an historical and philosophical perspective on the issue, this assumption is confronted with the developments observed in the United States and in France, and then with the guidelines laid down in international human rights instruments. What follows is a discussion of two alternatives to the dominant activation model: the basic income guarantee and the employment guarantee.
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Activation Policies for the Unemployed in France: “Social Debt” or “Poor Laws”?



Unemployment is dramatically on the increase in France: in June 2013, there were 3,246,000 people unemployed and the level of unemployment is close to reaching its historical peak of 1997. Even though the French welfare state is said to be generous, only 2.2 million job seekers receive unemployment benefits (Allocation d’aide au retour à l’emploi). Entitlement to these benefits relies on past contributions to the social security system, and the rules relating to this contributory requirement are extremely complex. The benefit level amounts to between 57% and 75% of the jobseeker’s last gross salary and a minimum amount is guaranteed (approximately 868 € a month). Unemployment benefits are paid for a maximum of two years.

Along with the contributory unemployment system, some means-tested transfers have been implemented for decades. The latest and probably most significant one for the field of activation policies is the Revenu de solidarité active (RSA), which is an earned income supplement, created in 2008. The RSA is an allowance designed to replace several former means-tested benefits (primarily the Revenu minimum d’insertion [RMI]). It aims to secure a minimum income for people, regardless of whether or not they work. The amount of RSA is 485 € for a single person and, for instance, 1,015 € per month for a couple with two children (household allowance not taken into account). These benefits are far below the official at-risk-of-poverty line (in France, 964 € for a single person, 2,400 € for a family...

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