Demanding activation

Tania Raffass

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

53 Citations (Scopus)


The distinctive character of the unemployment policies overhaul, known as the 'activation turn' of the 1990s, was that OECD governments intensified coercion against unemployed individuals while relaxing their commitment to ensuring full employment. By now supply-side activation policies have been tested long enough to permit conclusive evaluations, and the article surveys the body of empirical assessments to determine the achievements of the activation turn. The implementation of welfare-to-work policies has not resulted in bringing down the rates of unemployment (independently of the business cycle), combating long-term unemployment, reducing (in-work) poverty or empowering jobseekers as consumers of public services, which were all goals of the reformed 'activating state'. Instead, activation has been working as a mechanism of entrapment at the margins of liberalised labour markets by dint of its complementarity with employer-centred flexibility. The activation turn has thus failed to achieve its direct labour market and social objectives. However, it has produced pronounced indirect negative effects in the labour market, and its social impact has been regressive and repressive, as anticipated in normative and political-economic critiques of the rising 'workfare state'.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)349-365
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Social Policy
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2017

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