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Extending Opportunities

How Active Social Policy Can Benefit Us All

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Social policy is often disparaged as being a burden on society, but this book shows that well-designed social protection can be an asset that is critical for sustaining social development.  To fulfill its potential, however, social protection now needs to recognise new needs of individuals and families, and new constraints on their functioning.  Successful programmes will require new means to attain their goals, to leverage the initiatives of a broad range of actors, and to involve clients at every stage in the design and delivery of programmes.

In examining these questions, this fact-filled report stresses the importance of shifting the focus of social programmes from insuring individuals against a few, well-defined contingencies towards investing in their capabilities and making use of them to the best of their potential at every stage of the life course.  It also underscores the importance of broadening the roles played by individuals, employers and trade unions, as well as profit and not-for-profit providers of social services.

The book opens with a comprehensive assessment of the situation in OECD countries, comparing levels of poverty, social isolation, and social spending and indicators such as fertility rates, divorce rates, and distribution of household types (single, single parents, couples without children, couples with children).  In Part II of the book, issues relating to families and children are explored, with interesting data provided on gender gaps in employment and earnings, time spent by men and women on child care, maternity and parental leave, and family poverty.  The third part of the book examines poverty among prime-aged persons and includes extensive information on social assistance and disability.  The final part of the book examines social issues faced by older people and includes interesting information on employment of older people, effective ages of retirement in different countries, training of older employees, pensions, and long-term care.

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Combating Poverty and Exclusion Among Prime-aged Persons

Preventing poverty and exclusion among prime-aged persons is a key goal of social protection. While poverty and exclusion manifest themselves most directly in the form of inadequate income, their principal roots lie in a lack of skills, in a range of personal characteristics and structural factors that create obstacles to the use of skills, and in the reinforcement of these obstacles during periods of benefit receipt. Active social policies to avoid poverty and exclusion among persons of working age aim at helping benefit recipients overcome the obstacles to entering into paid work. They combine early and tailored interventions, greater focus on integration services, mutual obligations on both clients and providers to co-operate in the rehabilitation process, and reforms of benefit systems to remove disincentives to work. Active social policies, however, are not a silver bullet. While substantial progress has been achieved in many OECD countries by putting employment integration at the heart of social policy, not everyone can be expected to participate in the labour market, and getting people into jobs will be insufficient to avoid exclusion if people do not keep the jobs, if the wages that the jobs pay are not high enough to escape poverty, or if they offer little prospects of skills development and career progression. Hence, policies aimed at integration into employment must be complemented by measures to ¡°make-work-pay¡± and to assure adequate income for those for whom integration or re-integration into the labour market is more difficult to achieve, in particular single parents and people with disabilities. A consensus is also emerging in a

number of countries on applying an approach based on the principle of ¡°mutual obligations¡± ¨C that the commitment and effort society makes to assist beneficiaries requires that they in turn do their best to take steps to find work or engage in other productive activities. The pay-off of these policies in the future is higher income and selfsufficiency among traditional client groups, as well as higher employment rates for the economy as a whole. Reaping these benefits will require:

¡ñ Completing the welfare-to-work agenda.

¡ñ Making progress with welfare-in-work.

¡ñ Moving beyond work as the only focus of policies.

¡ñ Strengthening the effectiveness of programmes targeted to persons for whom work is less feasible.

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