Social investment policies needed to integrate work and welfare

Although there was an increase in the employment rate in Europe during the 2000s, the quality of jobs created has not kept pace. According to the RecWoWe network of excellence (FP6), quality and equality were forgotten in the rush to increase employment. The RecWoWe co-ordinators call for policy changes to reconcile and find a balance between the worlds of work and welfare.

Work and welfare are the most important domains that provide for individuals and influence their life chances. However, developments in the welfare states, which were set up in an industrial era, and changes to the labour market in Europe, have not been sufficiently integrated.

The labour market has been seen as inflexible in the face of increasing globalisation, technological change, the decline of industries, the growth of knowledge-based jobs, an increase in the service sector and a more dynamic demand for labour. At the same time, traditional programmes of welfare, modelled on male-dominated, full-time and continuous work patterns have become increasingly inadequate for a large section of employees engaged in non-standard types of work.

Reforms in recent years to Member States’ employment and welfare policies have been primarily aimed at increasing employment levels – so-called ‘activation policies’. These include placing conditions on the unemployed in return for benefits, such as signing contracts to agree to look for work, following a training course, or being obliged to accept offers of work.

In preference to activation polices are ‘social investment policies’1 aimed at giving individuals the necessary support to succeed in life, and in reconciling work and welfare, by investing in childcare and education, further education and training for those of working age, and introducing measures to enable older workers to continue to work.

RecWoWe, managed by MSH Ange Guepin, Nantes France, created a durable interdisciplinary network of over 200 researchers and 30 universities from 17 European countries, to overcome the fragmentation of existing research on employment and welfare, and study it from a comparative perspective. It has engaged with young researchers, as well as policy makers and stakeholders, and built up a valuable resource of people, data and knowledge, related to relevant policy issues, such as the Lisbon and Europe 2020 strategies, and to the economic crisis.

It was innovative in only funding research projects that focused on the interplay between work and welfare. It took a ‘bottom-up’ approach, accepting projects proposed by any member of the network rather than imposed from above, and combined simple rules with a consistent management approach.

RecWoWe’s main goal was to integrate research on the labour market and on the welfare state, which would have been impossible to achieve from a national point of departure. RecWoWe has contributed to the evolution of a truly European research community, potentially the largest in the world in the field of social policy, welfare state and labour market studies, enabling researchers to work in a consistent manner and allowing for a better understanding of current developments in Europe.

The RecWoWe network identified and based its work around four main tensions between work and welfare:

  • Flexicurity - Tension between a call for more flexibility in the labour market and a need for security for citizens.
  • Work-life balance - Tension between work and family life, increased fluidity in family patterns, and enhanced flexibility in employment patterns and relationships.
  • Quality and quantity of jobs - Tension between the number of jobs created and their quality.
  • Tension induced by the development of ‘employment-friendly’ welfare reforms, i.e. political tensions created by the difficulties in matching welfare systems set up in the industrial era to the requirements of creating post-industrial jobs.

RecWoWe has achieved a large number of outputs, including the European Data Center for Work and Welfare2, a meta-data shell which forms a harmonised portal linking most existing research in the area (at European and national levels). Other outputs include a substantial number of publications, including a Working Papers series, a newly created book series on 'Work and Welfare' (with Palgrave Macmillan) and journal publications (an impressive total of 25 collective volumes).

Among the network’s key findings are:

  • In-work poverty - Levels of poverty, inequality and social exclusion in EU Member States have remained stubbornly high over the last decade. Even during periods of employment growth, there was little sign of a reduction in in-work poverty, with migrants and women most at risk.
  • Job quality and tensions between work and private life - Policies designed to ease the work-family conflict are mainly aimed at families with children but tend to forget the need to care for other dependents. Opportunities to engage in part-time employment are highly influenced by the views and prejudices of organisations, the productive sectors and nations as a whole.
  • Gender equality - There has been only a slow increase in the number of women in top management roles during the last decades, with faster progress in some countries (primarily in Scandinavia).
  • Life courses - The financial basis for different life course activities, such as education, child-rearing and retirement, is confined to a ‘shrinking middle’ phase of employment.
  • Performance of social investment policies – Analysis of social investment policies, such as those found in Nordic countries, suggests that they can successfully combine social and economic goals. These countries display higher education levels, which translate into higher levels of social capital and social cohesion; greater learning and innovation capacity at work; more flexibility in the labour market; and good economic growth, including the creation of more and better jobs.

Policy recommendations:

  • Include as many people as possible in the labour market and introduce measures to ensure high quality education, social and health care.
  • Implement structural policies and incentives for companies to increase the demand for labour.
  • Encourage more comprehensive pension provision for workers with atypical careers, such as those taking career breaks.
  • Incorporate working time standards and other rights formulated by the International Labour Office (ILO) into EU guidance in order to improve the quality of jobs.
  • Introduce measures to address tensions in the work/family interface, such as flexible work schemes, and provide more support for high quality care of children and the elderly.
  • Introduce gender quotas if self-regulation fails to close the gender gap in top management positions.
  • Improve job quality to reduce in-work poverty.
  • Embed social investment objectives, such as reducing school drop-out rates, increasing the number of graduates and reducing the number of people living in poverty, into budgetary and macroeconomic policy.
  • Implement an EU ‘Social Investment Pact’ that could guide budgetary austerity policies towards long-term ends.


1 See: Morel, Palier and Palme,Towards a Social Investment Welfare State?, Policy Press, 2012.

2 See:

RecWoWe – Reconciling Work and Welfare in Europe (duration: 1/10/2006 – 30/9/2011) was a Network of Excellence funded under the 6th Framework Programme for Research of the European Union, Thematic Priority 7 – Citizens and governance in a knowledge-based society.


Contact: Denis Bouget,; Bruno Palier,