“We are at the bottom of the society” A qualitative study of dignity related experiences in non-standardized activation policies implemented towards social assistance recipients in Norway
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Active labor market policies have a long tradition in Norway, and since early the 1990s, conditional activation policies have increasingly become a core component in the provision of social assistance. The primary aim of such policies is to (re)integrate social assistance recipients into the ordinary labor market, and the strategies argued to be best suited for doing so have shifted since the formal enactment in the 1991 Act of Social Assistance. The 6th principle in ILO recommendation 202 urges member states to respect rights and dignity of minimum income recipients. While drawing on this principle, the purpose of this thesis is to address experiences of dignity among social assistance recipients required to participate in non-standardized activation measures. The research is located in a context where the activation policy over the last decade has undergone both discursive and practical developments. These changes have facilitated new, standardized, policies based in a social investment perspective, which differs from the 1990s ‘work-for-benefit’ focused policies. By applying qualitative methods this study aims to explore how those who have their social assistance benefit conditioned upon participation in ‘work-for-benefit’ activation experience dignity. The role of new policies, which my focus group is excluded from, is explored as a dimension affecting these experiences. A subsidiary aim is to discuss how the arrival of new standardized activation policies may have impacted the social divisions of activation. The main findings of the study, derived from a thematic analysis of interviews with six participants in two different ‘work-for-benefit’ measures, suggests that strict conditionality, lack of user-involvement and agency, low and unpredictable economical compensation, and content in work assignments, are the most significant factors affecting their experiences of dignity. In addition does the existence of other offerings, accessed by only a few, play an important role in perceived dignity. Findings from interviews combined with a review of the activation policy points, furthermore, towards blurred distinctions in the old divisions between insured and uninsured unemployed, thus, challenging the traditional hierarchies within public welfare while facilitating new ones.
Master i International Social Welfare and Health Policy