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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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Responding to Shifts in the Risks Confronting Older Persons

As recently as the 1970s, the words “pensioner” and “poverty” were inextricably linked. This is no longer true: during the past few decades, older persons have experienced significant improvements in their economic well-being. They are also living longer and healthier lives in all OECD countries. But, in a context of rapid population ageing, this improvement in performance is weighing heavily on government budgets, threatening the financial sustainability of the programmes that underpinned this progress. Moreover, social policy has been less successful in addressing other risks facing the elderly: the barriers that older workers face in retaining work, the risk of disability and isolation in old age, and the disturbingly high rates of poverty among some specific groups of elderly, in particular those with no pension rights or with interrupted careers. The changing configuration of risks confronting older persons, and the threat to the financial sustainability of the relevant programmes, calls for a shift in policy intervention. Active policies strive to address the obstacles to the continued participation of older persons in economic and social life, with a view to improving their well-being and making better use of their capabilities in activities that benefit both the whole community and themselves. Raising the labour-force participation rates for older persons is important not only for labour-market reasons and to put pension systems on a more solid footing, but also to avoid the risk that, in countries where the value of public pensions has been reduced recently, lower replacement rates will lead to higher poverty in old age. One specific concern is to ensure that the burden of assisting older persons with disability does not weigh disproportionately on women. Because many of them will have entered the labour market, they may no longer be available to provide the care needed by an increasing number of frail elderly. This requires adapting the system of formal care provision and its relationship to informal care, redistributing costs, and taking measures to lower the burden falling on family carers. Priorities for reform include:

  • Lowering the costs of old-age pensions while diversifying retirement income.
  • Promoting a longer working life.
  • Providing more quality services for an increasing number of frail elderly.

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