Different routes, common directions? Activation policies for young people in Denmark and the UK

Colin Lindsay, Mikkel Mailand

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This article analyses and compares the development of activation policies for young people in Denmark and the UK from the mid-1990s. Despite their diverse welfare traditions and important differences in the organisation and delivery of benefits and services for the unemployed, both countries have recently introduced large-scale compulsory activation programmes for young people. These programmes share a number of common features, especially a combination of strong compulsion and an apparently contradictory emphasis on client-centred training and support for participants. The suggested transition from the ‘Keynesian welfare state’ to the ‘Schumpeterian workfare regime’ is used as a framework to discuss the two countries’ recent moves towards activation. It is argued that while this framework is useful in explaining the general shift towards active labour-market policies in Europe, it alone cannot account for the particular convergence of the Danish and British policies in the specific area of youth activation. Rather, a number of specific political factors explaining the development of policies in the mid-1990s are suggested. The article concludes that concerns about mass youth unemployment, the influence of the ‘dependency culture’ debate in various forms, cross-national policy diffusion and, crucially, the progressive re-engineering of compulsory activation by strong centre-left governments have all contributed to the emergence of policies that mix compulsion and a commitment to the centrality of work with a ‘client-centred approach’ that seeks to balance more effective job seeking with human resource development. However, attempts to combine the apparently contradictory concepts of ‘client-centredness’ and compulsion are likely to prove politically fragile, and both countries risk lurching towards an increasingly workfarist approach.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)195-207
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Journal of Social Welfare
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2004


  • activation policies
  • young people
  • Denmark
  • workfarist approach
  • employment


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