How can social services-led programmes support the most vulnerable to find employment?

We recently published a toolkit with our proposal for an inclusion strategy for people furthest from the labour market, including our approach, guidance and practice examples. An innovative element of this toolkit is that our activation approach is led by and for senior social services professionals. They work with colleagues from other sectors to provide care for some of the most vulnerable people across Europe.

Questioning activation

Over the past 10 years, there has been an emphasis on activation policies at national and European levels, promoting employment as the solution for social inclusion. However, the link between entering work and making ends meet has become increasingly frayed in 21st century Europe. Eurostat statistics tell us that nearly one in ten workers in the EU are at risk of poverty after social transfers. This should be a wakeup call for policy makers as it means that work alone is not a route out of poverty anymore.

Adding to the mix changes such as new working patterns, zero-hour contracts or digitalisation we are left with social protection systems in Europe that are not always able to support the most vulnerable. Unsurprisingly, inequality has been on the rise. As highlighted at a recent European conference on the future of work, promoting training and skills is crucial to ensure that no one is left behind. But, for many activation is not enough.

From Activation to Inclusive Activation

At ESN, we have highlighted the limitations of the activation model for those in situations of exclusion. They may not be able to participate fully in activation programmes and require more personalised support. We call this approach ‘Inclusive Activation’.

This approach means that people furthest from the labour market are supported in a more holistic manner which is adapted to their needs, where social, health, education, housing and employment services are all considered relevant in promoting social inclusion.

The concept of Inclusive Activation, as implemented by many ESN members working in public social services, is built on a series of principles, including: a holistic assessment of the needs of people using services, an integrated service, and a personalised plan which includes adequate income support and access to quality services.

While employment can be crucial for inclusion, millions of European workers have been swept into working poverty. We have to acknowledge that for many activation has not had the desired outcome. Our Inclusive Activation approach, which is grounded on frontline practice, responds to the multiple causes of social exclusion in a holistic manner, promotes service personalisation, and encourages the empowerment of people using services.