City proposes dropping ‘job activation’

City councillor says volunteer work, not compulsory classes, might get the unemployable unemployed working

Copenhagen city councillors have come to loggerheads with the government over the controversial Â’job activationÂ’ scheme for the hardest unemployment cases.

Instead of forcing them to show up at the local job centre every day, make toy castles out of bottle caps and pipe cleaners in ‘team building’ exercises, and take whatever menial job thrown at them by a case worker – as the current unemployment rules require – the city’s deputy mayor for employment and integration, Anna Mee Allerslev (Radikale), proposes allowing the most marginalised unemployed people to do volunteer work instead.

“I’m certain that volunteer-run organisations and social enterprises will bring these people closer to the job market or an ordinary job than we ever can,” she told Berlingske newspaper.

“I know four women who got full-time jobs after volunteering as Natteravne [Denmark’s version of the Guardian Angels, ed.],” she added.

In Copenhagen there are an estimated 7,000 people – primarily immigrant women – who are considered so hopelessly unemployable that they are on the verge of being granted a type of incapacity benefit (førtidspension), reports Berlingske. Yet under the current rules they are still subject to ‘activation’ – forced to show up at the job center at set times and take courses or temporary, menial assignments. These people would gain more and be prepared better for the job market by doing volunteer work, said Allerslev.

To qualify as a substitute for activation, the volunteer assignment would still need approval by a case manager from the council, but Allerslev suggested that volunteer work as a Guardian Angel (Natteravn), or as a mentor or tutor in a marginalised neighbourhood, could count.

Erik Thorsted, who manages Fonden for Socialt Ansvar, a social enterprise that works on community building initiatives, said the proposal had potential.

“Regardless of how much you pressure these people, they will never come into the job market with the unemployment levels we have now,” Thorsted told Berlingske. “But if they are allowed to experience a new environment and build a network, they will gain a brand new attitude and access to the job market.”

Politicians from the Socialistisk Folkeparti (SF) and the opposition Dansk Folkeparti also expressed cautious approval for the initiative, but emphasised that skill development – and a real desire to work – remained important.

“The system today is altogether too rigid. But you can’t solve the employment problem for these 7,000 people in this way alone,” said SF job market spokesperson Eigil Andersen.

“For some of them, traditional methods would be more effective,” he added, “For example, by giving immigrant women Danish language classes, teaching them about our work culture, or giving them courses in cleaning work or other kinds of jobs.”