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Work Enforcement in Liberal Democracies


The paper aims to contribute to the normative debate concerning work enforcement in liberal democracies. In the late 1980s, OECD countries began to revert to the pre-welfare-state tradition of attributing unemployment to personal failure. The new welfare-to-work policies emphasised individual responsibility for securing employment. Stepping up job search requirements and sanctions for failure to meet them was presented as a public intervention that helps unemployed individuals return from dependency to autonomy. Jobseekers have been made to believe that success in obtaining employment depends on how doggedly they search for work and how adaptable they become to employer needs. These presumptions are challenged in the paper. Contracts that jobseekers are forced to sign with providers of employment services curtail their autonomy not only to the extent that they cannot avoid unproductive activity tests imposed on them, but also from a lifetime perspective in cases where they are forced into inferior jobs. In job-short economies, employers are also certain to discriminate against disadvantaged jobseekers notwithstanding the intensity of their effort or openness to occupational change.

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Journal of Social Policy
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