Work-Related Sanctions in European Welfare States: An Incentive to Work or a Violation of Minimum Subsistence Rights?
46 Pages Posted: 30 Jun 2016 Last revised: 5 Sep 2018
Date Written: June 15, 2016
Since the 1990s (Western) European welfare states have adopted a series of reforms aimed at promoting the return to employment of recipients of social assistance benefits. The economic crisis has prompted welfare states to cut the expenditures on enabling instruments and to opt increasingly for work-related sanctions (i.e. sanctions that are imposed on recipients who fail to comply with activation measures). This paper examines the regulation of work-related sanctions from a social rights perspective in 25 European welfare states. Based on this perspective, the paper investigates, first, the extent to which work-related sanctions are mitigated by specific legal clauses and by the composition of the social assistance benefits. Second, this paper investigates the relationship between the socio-economic situation of the European welfare states and the harshness of the sanctions. The paper concludes that the socio-economic situation in countries that have adopted harsh work-related sanctions reinforces the risk of violation of the right to minimum means of subsistence. The (relative) lack of mitigation clauses in these countries further reinforces this effect. In order to prevent this effect this paper recommends the construction of a system of social assistance benefits on which basis a work-related sanction only affects a basic component of social assistance benefits, without touching components for the costs for children, paternity, rent, heating and the partner.
Keywords: Activation, Social assistance, welfare to work, sanction, discretionary power, social rights
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