Welfare-through-Work and the Re-Regulation of Labour Markets in Denmark

By Etherington, David; Jones, Martin | Capital & Class, July 1, 2004 | Go to article overview

Welfare-through-Work and the Re-Regulation of Labour Markets in Denmark


Etherington, David, Jones, Martin, Capital & Class


Introduction

This paper is positioned within theoretical perspectives that focus on welfare states as systems of power and negotiation between key social forces acting in and through the state apparatus. In this context, we suggest that Labour's welfare-to-work programme is beginning to generate considerable debate on the re-regulation of labour markets. Although there is an emerging consensus that this strategy is deeply problematic, there appears to be reluctance, within the UK debate, to discuss viable alternatives to neo-liberalism. This paper is intended to stimulate discussion on this issue and to contribute, in doing so, to theories of welfare state restructuring by focusing on the social regulation of labour markets in Denmark. In stark contrast to UK and North American strategies, Denmark has adopted a 'weliare-through-work' model, which is built around a more inclusive system of welfare reform. The paper discusses the emergence of that model, focuses on the importance of 'Job Rotation' as its leading -edge socio -economic strategy, highlights recent conflicts and tensions within Job Rotation, and suggests lessons for Britain.

Recent attempts to reform the British welfare state through Labour's welfare-to-work initiative are generating considerable debate on the re -regulation of labour markets (Finn, 2000; Lister, 2001; National Audit Office, 2002; Nativel et al., 2002; Peck, 9 1999; Sunley et al., 2ooi;Turok & Edge, 1999). Welfare -to -work represents a significant strategy to develop behaviourist and supply -side models of labour market regulation, and this policy is becoming commonplace in developed capitalist societies (Lødemel & Trickey, 2000; OECD, 9 1999; Peck, 2001).

Debates here have highlighted the fact that supply-side initiatives represent a new mode of social control that leads to widening income inequalities and a downward spiral of low skills and low pay, which ultimately impacts on social cohesion and economic competitiveness (Carlson & Theodore, 1995; Grover, 2003; Pascual, 2002).

In this paper, we suggest that Denmark's 'activation' reforms have embodied elements of workfare, but that they also incorporated a more 'social inclusive' model, which holds lessons for those seeking to address the contradictions of neoliberalism (also see Jørgensen. 2002). This model involves three elements in what we have termed, elsewhere, a 'welfare-r/zroM^A-work' political strategy (Bewick et al.,1997; Etherington, 1998; Etherington & Jones, 2004; cf. Torfing, 9 1999; Ploug, 2002).

First, social partnerships have been strengthened in policy formulation and implementation at all levels of governance. second, financial planning and decision -making has been decentralised to regionally -based institutions. Third, the unemployed have been given rights to counselling, an individual action plan and, more importantly, access to a comprehensive package of job training, Job Rotation, education and childcare leave schemes.

This strategy is underpinned by the central role of the public sector and local government in the implementation of work - and education -based programmes.

Following a broad discussion on theoretical frameworks for comparing the Danish and UK welfare state, this paper addresses the key features of Denmark's weliare-through-work model. It then focuses on an initiative, Job Rotation, which has been integral to the labour market reforms and was conceived by the Danish labour movement. This is followed by an assessment of some of the current tensions within the Danish model, and specifically of Job Rotation within this, after which potential lessons for the UK are drawn out. Before starting this discussion, however, we need to make it clear that we are not suggesting that the Danish model can be uncritically exported through policy-transfer, and cloned in Britain. Instead, Denmark offers a number of guiding principles that can shed light on the problems identified above. …

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