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Opening the labour market for vulnerable citizens

| Text: Marie Preisler

One hour’s work a week is better than nothing. That is the thinking behind the major drive in recent years to get vulnerable Danes into the labour market. New research shows businesses are ready to create small jobs for vulnerable groups.

Flexjobs reform, unemployment reform and sickness benefit reform. Denmark has reached a range of major political agreements in recent years aimed at moving vulnerable citizens out of welfare dependency and into work and self sufficiency. The common aim for all the schemes is to link vulnerable citizens with a business as quickly as possible – even if the road to full employment is long. 

So far it seems many Danish companies are positive to finding a space for colleagues who might only manage to contribute a little bit to the workplace. 

A fresh report in the wake of the reform of the flexjobs scheme shows that it is possible to get people with severely reduced work capacity into flexjobs. Small, private businesses in particular are very willing to create flexjobs for vulnerable citizens who are only able to work for a few hours a week.

The reforms of the early retirement scheme and flexjobs were implemented on 1 January 2013, and one aim was to make it easier for vulnerable citizens to find a flexjob were they could work very few hours a week. 

In this the reform has succeeded, according to SFI, the Danish National Centre for Social Research. Its report, “Citizens in flexjobs after the reform” was commissioned by The Danish Agency for Labour Market and Recruitment and Reform, which comes under the Ministry of Employment.

Business advantage

Helle Holt is a senior researcher at SFI’s research department for employment and social inclusion, and one of the authors of the new flexjobs report. She sees clear signs that businesses are happy to help vulnerable citizens secure even the smallest link to the labour market:

“The report shows that it is not as difficult as you might expect to get businesses to create small flexjobs. Our annual corporate social responsibility survey also shows that businesses are fundamentally positive to helping contribute to such schemes as long as they are not too complicated and if there is the necessary support from job centres.”

She also believes businesses appreciate other benefits of including vulnerable citizens. 

“It can improve workplace moral if you are seen to be charitable and helping vulnerable citizens on their way. Flexjobs can also solve smaller tasks, which frees up time for other workers.”

Helle Holt has being doing employment policy research for many years, and sees a clear pattern in recent years’ major reforms of the flexjobs scheme, unemployment benefits and sickness benefits. They all focus on increasing vulnerable citizens’ work capacity.

“Many Danes are passively receiving benefits, and all the reforms have the overarching aim of reducing the number of people taking early retirement by directing more people towards employment. 

"That is why all the reforms aim to strengthen the work capacity of vulnerable citizens. Even the smallest of workplaces can be used, and all capable citizens should get into a workplace.”

New buzzwords

“Empowerment” and “progression” are some of the buzzwords surrounding the focus on work capacity, explains Helle Holt.

“Empowerment is about motivating the individual to feel in control of his or her own life. This has long been an issue in the social arena, and now too when it comes to the labour market. 

"Progression has become a buzzword because vulnerable citizens face so many other challenges other than not having a job, and their road to finding work is dependent on many small steps. It is important to measure that progression.”

Flexjobs is in essence an offer for those who function best within the group vulnerable citizens outside of the labour market. Those who are too ill to have a flexjob will usually be offered a so-called resource pathway with a rehabilitating approach. 

As of today, only one in ten resource pathways are business-related, but the government wants to change this. One tool which will be used is a new project called JobFirst, which is an offer for 2,400 vulnerable citizens in 16 municipalities. 

They will get the chance to try out different work responsibilities and businesses. The project should lead to a better understanding of how vulnerable citizens can gain a place in the labour market. 

The government-appointed Carsten Koch committee highlighted the fact that business- related offers represent the most efficient tool for getting vulnerable citizens into employment. The committee has carefully studied employment policies and recommended new solutions, like not trying to solve vulnerable citizens’ social and health issues before trying to find them a job, but parallel to that effort.

Only when a vulnerable citizen is too weak both for a flexjob and for a resource pathway, he or she should be offered early retirement. 

Citizens in flexjobs after the reform
  • The number of flexjobs have increased to 59,000 from 51,000 since the reform. 9,000 people are working for just a few hours a week.
  • Six out of ten flexjob workers are hired by private businesses. 59 percent of them were hired by businesses with fewer than 10 employees in 2013. 64 percent of flexjob workers on short hours were hired by small businesses. 
  • The majority of flexjob workers enjoy their jobs, and have a good relationship with colleagues and management. Most feel their flexjob maintains a good balance between work capacity and work demand.
  • Flexjob workers whose work capacity matches their physical working demands are more likely to say that they expect to improve their work capacity in the near future. The same applies if they are given the opportunity to use their skills at work, and if they have good relations to both colleagues and management. 
  • The challenge is to secure that flexjob workers’ resources are used in the best possible way.
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