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Long-term unemployed take the lead

An experiment challenging traditional welfare system and empowering long-term unemployed in their efforts to find or create a job
Aarhus / Denmark
Size of city: 
264 716 inhabitants


Anne Marie Frederiksen
Project Manager
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What would happen if the long-term unemployed were allowed to decide for themselves how the money that is spent every year to prepare them for the labour market - at least some of it - should be used? The municipality of Aarhus (DK) decided to find out and, in collaboration with the University of Aarhus, The Social Development Centre and the Velux Foundation, it has initiated a two-year pilot project which has made it financially possible to give a cash grant of up to DKK 50,000 (approx. €6,700) to 100 long-term unemployed citizens to help them in their efforts in finding or creating a job. The beneficiary is therefore responsible for how the money is used and what it is spent on.
In 2017, the results have been very promising, with 14 of the 27 participants being no longer on unemployment benefits. The participants themselves expressed that they feel a larger amount of responsibility and control over their own lives since they are treated with trust and confidence by the job counsellors. At the same time, they experience the new initiative as something “fresh” and tailored to their situation, and so they avoid the typical “one size fits all” courses.

The solutions offered by the good practice

The City of Aarhus is experimenting with models for self-budgeting in employment activities. The plan is to allow 100 unemployed citizens to receive up to 50,000 kroner (6,700 euros) that he or she decides how to spend in order to get a job. The Aarhus 2017 European Capital of Culture theme is “RETHINK”, and our project rethinks the relations between citizens and authorities.
The project is run from the perspective that the citizens are experts in their own lives. Therefore, it makes sense that they have a greater influence on what should be done in order to find a job. The vision is that the individual becomes the driving force in his or her own job performance and that this will increase the chances of getting a job.
The project is organised in three parts:
• Testing and developing a model for self-budgeting in employment activities;
• Developing tools for the case managers and supporting them in this new way of working with the citizens;
• Validation and analysis of the data that is produced in the project by Aarhus University.
The first results are promising. At the time of this writing, 9 of the 16 participants who wanted to become self-employed have succeeded in doing so.

Building on the sustainable and integrated approach

“Long-term unemployed take the lead” is based on at least two of the URBACT approaches.
In relation to horizontal integration, the project combines both the social perspective and the perspective of economic thinking, in the sense that it aims at helping long-term unemployed people out of their unemployment - which is an economic benefit to society, but also a social, emotional and economic benefit for the individual citizens.
Regarding Vertical integration, the project builds on both a local strategy for strong cooperation between the municipality and businesses (the business strategy) and the local policy of active citizenship.
The background of the business strategy is a vision of establishing Denmark's strongest partnerships with local companies - partnerships for jobs, social responsibility and growth. The municipality is working to become the local companies' preferred partner in finding and hiring new employees and finding solutions for employees on sick leave. Businesses are our number one customers, and the strategy for cooperation with more companies focuses on a more service-oriented approach, benefiting both companies and unemployed citizens.
This good practice in many ways also taps into the City of Aarhus Citizenship Policy with its focus on active citizenship, new solutions, inclusion, and diversity. Based on the first results (of 27 participants, 14 are no longer in the system), the project contributes to a more sustainable welfare service.

Based on a participatory approach

The city council of Aarhus decided on 6 November 2013 to set up a Citizenship Committee with citizens and politicians. The job of the Citizenship Committee was to challenge the municipal practice of public involvement and inspire a new practice for citizen participation, collaboration, and co-creation. The result of this work is a new Active Citizenship Policy (the policy is part of the Support Package).
The Committee has on several occasions helped to inspire the work in the project. Both individually and in groups, they facilitated citizen perspectives and have made a number of concrete proposals which have been put into the project.
As stated in the Citizen Policy, managers and employees in the municipality demonstrate openness to new initiatives, help citizens help one another, and are prepared to accept the consequences of the new expectations regarding our cooperation with citizens.
From the start of the project, the employees have been closely involved in the development of a methodology to ensure:
• Ownership;
• Safety and making it possible to apply the method in practice;
• The opportunity to contribute with social expertise and knowledge of the local context.
So, both during the planning of the project and afterward there has been a high degree of co-creation and participatory activities.

What difference has it made?

It is not yet possible to say anything conclusive about the programme, but the first results are so comprehensive that It makes sense to launch a good practice call. As of January 2017, 14 of the 27 participants had found a job, and reported other benefits:
• A boost in confidence;
• That the job consultants can finally give them an offer that is usable;
• That they get a customised offer;
• That the offer is based on trust rather than control;
• That they have great personal ownership in the process to find jobs.
Phases 2 and 3 are no longer on unemployment benefits, while the participants in phase 4 began their activities in February 2017. As already mentioned, 9 of the 16 participants that wanted to become self-employed succeeded in doing so, and as such, the experiment has shown that there is a considerable amount of unemployed that wish to take a step into the world of entrepreneurship, which may be worth paying attention to. There has been a great desire among the participants in the project to start their own business. It is remarkable because within the current legislation is not possible to help unemployed citizens who want to start their own business.
Another important result is that the citizens feel that they are consulted and involved to a much greater extent than in the usual employment process. Through qualitative interviews, we have documented what the citizens experience: they are met with trust.

Why should other European cities use it?

The 2008 -2009 global recession and the Eurozone debt crisis significantly affected European economies, decreasing growth and increasing unemployment in many EU countries. Despite some signs of recovery, many EU countries continue to struggle with sluggish growth, high unemployment (especially among young people) and dissatisfied publics.
Across Europe, we are in the middle of a fundamental transformation of the welfare state. We are breaking with the traditional conception of welfare as a standard benefit or service, and challenging the time when a case manager could offer a standard product to all of our citizens. Instead, welfare should be created in the space between citizen, companies, businesses, the case manager and civil society.
What we see in these years is that the municipalities are making experiments with new forms of welfare – co-created with citizens and businesses. We go from system to person – from expert to “sparring partner” and from giving answers to asking questions.
However, one thing is to realise the challenges and put up new visions. Another thing is how it is done in the daily work in the employment department. “Long-term unemployed take the lead” is an example of how we try to make the vision concrete.