Addressing youth unemployment: what role for social work? : Policy responses to youth unemployment in Sweden and Europe

Abstract: Unemployed youth are a heterogenous group facing varying and sometimes complex problems. Being young and unemployed can have a negative impact on future life chances and quality of life. Studies on youth unemployment have mostly focused on education and labour market responses, leaving the involvement of social work aside.   This thesis aims to explore policies for unemployed youth in three key policy areas: social work, education and labour market, in Europe and Sweden. The thesis consists of four separate studies highlighting how policy ideas are translated into agendas, and how responses are administered and organized at national and local level. Applying an institutionalist theoretic framework, the results are analysed with consideration to the structure of state and welfare state.   Study I explored the ideas inherent to the social policy concept ‘social investment’, outlining three central dimensions of the concept: temporal-perspective, principles of distribution and policy coherence. A key result of study I is that social investment ideas are nuanced, and that social investments can take different forms. In the following three studies, the dimensions of social investment are used as heuristic tools to examine policy responses for unemployed youth.   Study II examined how the EU recommendation on establishing a youth guarantee (YG), was translated in national YG plans. The results were analysed using tentative regime-types based on the structure of social work, the education system, and the social insurance system. The results showed that outreach as an early intervention was marginal across countries and regime types, and the involvement of social work was largely absent.   In study III, the coordination within and between policy areas was analysed between Sweden and the UK, over time. Policy documents on national labour market programs in both countries between 1998-2011, were analysed. The results showed that coordination between labour market programs and social security benefits/social assistance had strengthened over time in both countries. How authority to regulate and administer different policy areas, was also linked to the occurrence of coordination between different policy areas.   Study IV examined if and how specialization and coordination were part of organizing local level work with NEETs in Sweden. This was explored through structured interviews with local professionals in social work, education and labour market. The results showed a pattern of coordination and specialization among education and labour market actors. The involvement of social work was instead marginal, and primarily concerned social assistance.   In conclusion, the results of this thesis show that the agenda, content and administration of policy responses to youth unemployment consists mainly of wide, universal and reactive responses. They are also characterized by coordination between labour market measures and social insurance/assistance, in line with an activation trend. An important finding is also the very limited involvement of social work, as noted in national policy agendas and programs, and in local level work. Both activation and social work involvement did however vary somewhat with administrative levels and between different policy areas. The results thereby indicate that institutional aspects such as organizational structure and administration, matter for the involvement of different policy areas in responses to youth unemployment.