Social Integration Policies for Young Marginalised: A Capability Approach

Jean-Michel Bonvin, Eric Moachon

Abstract

From the mid-eighties, social policies are increasingly being turned into re-commodification tools, i.e. their main objective is no more to compensate for income loss, but to promote quick and possibly long-lasting reintegration into the labour market. This evolution has coincided with the emergence of various activation requirements imposed on recipients, upon which entitlement benefits are often made conditional (esp. in devices set up within the unemployment insurance and social assistance programmes). In this context, activation is frequently identified with compliance with the expectations defined by officers of the public administration. Thereby, it is claimed that activation can take place without, or even against, the beneficiaries’ consent. In other words, the prevailing view of activation or empowerment is imposed in a top-down way, and this applies especially to the most disadvantaged beneficiaries, who are also those submitted to the harshest requirements or sanctions. By contrast, the capability approach (henceforward CA) insists that genuine empowerment cannot be achieved if the empowered, i.e. the activated, person is not willingly participating to the process. In this alternative framework, the enhancement of individual capabilities requires both empowerment and free participation: if the former is missing, the individual recipient’s freedom remains formal (in the Marxian sense); if the latter is not guaranteed, then empowerment boils down to paternalism. Hence, the challenge that the CA poses to the activation strategy is to design programmes able to both empower the beneficiaries and respect their freedom to lead the life of their choice. This task is particularly requiring for the most disadvantaged people, among whom marginalized youth. Our paper aims at providing an analytical and normative framework for assessing social integration policies set up for marginalized youth. Section 1 presents in some detail this framework, i.e. it proposes a concrete way to implement the CA in this specific field. Section 2 applies it to a specific case, i.e. a programme developed for marginalized youth in a Swiss canton. The concluding section summarises the main teachings of the case study both in normative and methodological terms.

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