The European Social Network (ESN) has been promoting a shift in policy-making to support the social inclusion of vulnerable people from an activation approach grounded on inclusion through employment alone to a more holistic one - where in addition to social wellbeing, health, education, housing and employment are all considered important factors to improve their social integration. The concept of inclusive activation, developed in our 2019 toolkit and implemented by many ESN members, is built on a series of principles, including: a holistic assessment of the needs of people using services, an integrated provision of services, a personalised plan, adequate income support, a labour market which accounts for their specific needs, and access to quality services.  Active inclusion, therefore, remains an important objective for all ESN members.

ESN was invited to moderate and present the inclusive activation approach by the European Commission in the peer review ‘Active inclusion of young adults receiving social assistance benefits’ hosted by the Norwegian Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs on 23-24 November 2022. The meeting brought together representatives from the European Commission, national governments, social services and independent thematic experts from the host country (Norway) and five peer countries (Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Malta, and the Netherlands).

The peer review focused the active inclusion measures targeted at young adults receiving social assistance benefits. These are often the people furthest away from the labour market, dealing with multiple challenges such as disability, poor mental health, homelessness, and young people leaving care. Participants learned about the ways in which Norway’s labour and welfare administration offices in local authorities work with young people on minimum income support. In the Norwegian welfare system, there are basically five income maintenance schemes for people of working age: 1) unemployment benefit, 2) sick pay, 3) work assessment allowance, 4) disability benefits, and 5) social assistance.The host country paper aims to give an overview of Norwegian policies for active inclusion of young adults. It looks at policies, measures and methods that are relevant for young adults receiving social assistance, with the objective of exploring how the duty to participate in activation measures can be further developed to increase the number entering work or education.

 "We want young people to explore their own opportunities and obstacles and to be open about this with their employer, with for example, trial days at work, to get to know different types of work and careers," said the Norwegian representatives from Jobbhus Gjøvik, which gives young job seekers opportunities to develop a career or an education.

Participants discussed the diverse specific needs/issues and backgrounds young people are dealing with such as mental illness, homelessness, disability, or coming from a migrant background or low-income family; and approaches to support them in accessing the labour market, such as personalized support or integrated health care. 

An inclusive activation approach

The concept of active inclusion was launched by the EU in 2008 with a focus on three areas: access to resources, jobs and services; and has been re-emphasised in the European Pillar of Social Rights and its accompanying Action Plan. However, most of the time the focus tends to be on just finding employment rather than providing an integrated approach, which not always ensures success.

ESN’s CEO, Alfonso Lara Montero presented a proposal for a more holistic approach which we call ‘inclusive activation’. "It is about more than money, - It is about partnerships, consultation involving all services providing support from planning through implementation to evaluation, case management, a good governance to formalise collaboration between relevant organisations, mentors and coaches by young people themselves with lived experience, a joint vision for the organizations and professionals, investing in joint teams of multiple professionals from different services who meet and train together, and enabling technology to integrate these young people meaningfully into society," Mr. Montero said in his presentation.

The inclusive activation approach working with young people was illustrated through innovative practice examples from ESN members, such as Integration pathways for young people leaving the care system, in Bucharest District 6, Romania; The ‘Mentor’ programme that provides social and employment support for young people in public care, in Galicia, Spain;  U25 –a one-stop-shop for young unemployed people, in Vienna, Austria; and the Youth Solidarity Income, a trial programme in Lyon, France.

The results of the peer review will be summarised in an upcoming report. However integrated partnerships for social inclusion are relevant for all populations with whom social services work. A new report compiling our latest research on supporting the social inclusion of people on minimum income will be published in the new year.

Further reading:

The European Commission aims to harmonise access to minimum income

Minimum Income – Integrated Support is Key!

Inclusive activation: New toolkit for professionals

Effectively supporting people with disabilities

Tackling long-term unemployment amongst vulnerable groups