Cost cutting and Greater Personal Responsibility

In the 1990s, the term ‘Aktivierung’ or ‘Activation’ became the main idea behind new social policy. The unemployed and disabled were to gain greater personal responsibility through active social policy measures. The hope to save costs was thus combined with a contribution to restructuring unemployment and disability insurance.

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The notion of activation began to shape discourse on social security in the 1990s. For scholars the concept even represented a paradigm shift in social policy. The idea behind activation is to transfer responsibility for (re)integration into the labor market to the recipients of welfare benefits. Social welfare systems aimed to only support and encourage individual efforts to find work. Self-activation therefore became a condition for state support. Proponents of active social policy measures argued this would enable savings and increased welfare efficiency. Critics, however, claimed the activation paradigm simply ignores the structural causes of individual economic difficulties. In addition, talking about personal responsibility was a cover up for dismantling of social benefits.

At the beginning of the 1990s, the unemployment rate in Switzerland rose considerably. In this context, the notion of activation gained new meaning. The revised Unemployment Insurance Act of 1995 expanded labor market measures, such as courses, motivational seminars or employment schemes. The new regional employment offices sought to support benefits recipients' efforts in finding a new job. Concurrently, the number of daily allowances was reduced. Measures for occupational integration also gained impetus in social welfare, although the appeal to personal responsibility was also linked to new sanctioning options. Similar approaches had a long history in disability insurance (IV). The fifth IV revision (2006) further strengthened the (classic) principle of ‘reintegration before pension’ in order to reduce both the growing number of new pensions and social expenditure deficits. A range of early detection and early intervention measures – such as case management or coaching – as well as support programs were designed to enable people with disabilities to retain their jobs or find new employment without having to live on benefits.

Literatur / Bibliographie / Bibliografia / References: Nadai Eva, Canonica Alan, Arbeitsmarktintegration als neu entstehendes Berufsfeld: Zur Formierung von professionellen Zuständigkeiten, Schweizerische Zeitschrift für Soziologie, 38, 23–37; Schallberger Peter, Wyer Bettina (2010), Praxis der Aktivierung. Eine Untersuchung von Programmen zur vorübergehenden Beschäftigung, Konstanz; Magnin Chantal (2005), Beratung und Kontrolle : Widersprüche in der staatlichen Bearbeitung von Arbeitslosigkeit, Zürich; Année politique Suisse / Schweizerische Politik, 1995–2006.