Nordic Paths from Welfare to Workfare: Danish, Swedish and Finnish Labour Market Reforms in Comparison

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This article engages in a dynamic comparative analysis of key labour market reforms in Denmark, Sweden and Finland from the early 1990s to the 2000s. During this period traditional egalitarian and collectivist elements of Nordic social insurance were reshaped by workfare reforms. The ways in which the principle of workfare changed the content of Nordic collectivist social insurance are compared along five dimensions: the implied characterisation of benefit recipients in legislation; the degree of autonomy designed for benefit recipients; the level of administrative detail; management of insider/outsider divisions in the labour market; and the strength of the insurance principle. According to the interpretation suggested in the light of the comparison, the traditional egalitarian and collectivist Nordic social order has not been replaced by an increased scope for autonomy. Instead, workfare reforms have contributed to an understanding of obligations in terms of obedience and to the establishment of social order through control mechanisms. The degree of changes varies, so that in terms of the management of insider/outsider divisions, the strength of the insurance principle and the implied characterisation of benefit recipients, Swedish and Danish workfare reforms appear more similar to each other, retaining some of the traditional egalitarian aspects. As a contrast, Finnish reforms appear to be toughest for individual benefit recipients introducing strong control of unwanted behaviour.
Original languageEnglish
JournalLocal Economy
Issue number5-6
Pages (from-to)558-576
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - 2012
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Fields of Science

  • 5142 Social policy
  • workfare
  • activation
  • labour market
  • social insurance

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