Support services and benefits for jobseekers: international comparisons (Sweden, the Netherlands, United Kingdom)

Publié le | Temps de lecture : 6 minutes

Nicolas Grivel (Igas), Nathalie Georges, Dominique Meda, members of CEE (Centre d’études de l’emploi)

I. Common trends and ongoing reforms

The three countries visited have experienced similar developments in how they approach their employment policies, even if each of them retains some unique characteristics linked to its history and its social and political preferences. These common trends, which have been the subject of recent, ongoing reforms, can be grouped into three different categories: 

  • Institutional reforms : public employment services (PES) are undergoing sweeping reforms to ensure that they are able to deliver their services effectively and ensure efficient use of public funds. In order to address these challenges, new management techniques are being introduced, particularly management by objectives, which affects increasingly small entities (local agencies, teams or even individual counselors). At the same time, the organization of the system as a whole is being streamlined through reforms designed to achieve greater decentralization and the setting up of one-stop shops for “consumers”. PES are increasingly relying on external providers to supplement their own capabilities and expand their range of services. In doing so, these “new PES” are aiming to provide quality services at the lowest possible cost, against a backdrop of limited budgets. However, these reforms are not without their problems or contradictions, and many coordination problems remain within the systems. Nevertheless, all three countries are making a systematic effort to test and evaluate their policies in order to assess their relevance with regard to the objectives set. 
  • Individualized support and journeys : pursuit of a more balanced budget has led to the “activation” of labor market expenditure in all countries. This approach has two major consequences for the unemployed: firstly, payment of compensation is subject to more stringent conditions, particularly those requiring recipients to actively look for work, and secondly, they are obliged to participate in programs or accept jobs deemed “suitable” in order to continue receiving their benefits.

Personalized monitoring and checks are being stepped up, through the use of financial sanctions where necessary. This trend towards contractualization of the relationship between the PES and the unemployed can be seen in the near-systematic implementation of Personal Action Plans (PAP). The upside to this is that the unemployed have access to services that better meet their needs, thanks to an assessment of their own personal situation on the job market. They therefore benefit from pathways that tend to be “tailor-made” the longer they remain unemployed. The desire to provide each person with a single point of contact for monitoring purposes, sometimes even into employment, is clear to see and accompanied by efforts to reduce the size of advisors' portfolios. But implementing more individualized monitoring is a complex process and it is rare to see all aspects of this applied at a local level. The system requires further adaptation to make these reforms effective, and, in particular, advisors need to be provided with training on this new working culture and these new duties. - Short-term services designed to ensure a rapid return to employment: the range of services used to support those who are unable to find another job by themselves is also changing. Structural training (learning a new profession, transferable skills, etc.) is now taking a back seat to coaching services that focus on teaching people individual skills that they may be lacking to allow them to access a specific job. As a general rule, services that help get the unemployed closer to rejoining the labor market and to finding a “standard” job (full-time, private sector) are preferred.

This is why supported employment schemes are used to help those furthest from employment, in the hope that these jobs will provide a springboard for people to get back into work. Cost is another factor at play here, as these services require relatively little funding to implement. But the risk of this short-term vision, which does not give any consideration to the quality of the jobs found, is that many people may become unemployed again further down the line. While the system makes sense for a first-time applicant, its highly formalized sequencing may not be appropriate for an unemployed person who has already been through the entire “process” several times without finding a long-term solution. A certain degree of flexibility should therefore be introduced, allowing tools such as longer training courses to be used in some cases. These are undoubtedly more costly in the short term, but more effective in the long run. These reforms are most successful when they come in the form of comprehensive programs that include individualized monitoring of benefit recipients and service delivery.

The creation of Employment Zones in the United Kingdom is inspired by all of these current developments: in this case, support is provided by private operators who assign each recipient a single point of contact for all follow-up activities. This contact draws up a PAP with their “client”, which sets out all the measures to be taken to help them find a job. The support offered is assigned to different phases, each with its own well-defined objectives, to create a carefully planned sequence of activities. If the unemployed person needs additional training or another specific service, the service provider has funding available to pay for this. A high degree of individualization is therefore combined with a formalized program to ensure consistent and appropriate monitoring. Evaluations of the program have confirmed the good results that have been obtained.

II. Similarities with the situation in France

Most of the recent reforms implemented in France are consistent with those observed in the other three countries. Typical support for the unemployed has been reorganized into three pathways, with each unemployed person being assigned to one of these based on how far away from finding employment they are considered to be (P1: Accelerated search pathway, P2: Active search pathway, P3: Supported search pathway). The services provided as part of these three different approaches vary in their intensity and type. For those assigned to P1, who should theoretically be successful in finding a job within three months, they are geared towards rapid reintegration into the labor market, whilst for the P3s, who are at high risk of long-term unemployment, they involve working to set out a career plan. Following the initial interview at the French National Agency for Employment (ANPE), each unemployed person creates a personalized plan for accessing employment (PPAE), which summarizes the actions to be taken and can be later revised if necessary.

From their fourth month of unemployment onwards, jobseekers receive personalized monthly monitoring (PMM), which consists of a monthly meeting with a single point of contact. For those who are furthest from employment (P3), experiments are underway to assess whether they would benefit from the provision of support by private operators, with this reference system (protocolized and evaluated experimentation) bringing France more in line with the practices of other countries. The way in which the system is organized is therefore becoming increasingly similar to that seen in other European countries, but these reforms are still too recent to be able to judge how effective their implementation has been and how great an impact the personalized support has had. In addition, further institutional reforms are likely to take place in France, with the United Kingdom’s system being presented as a model for a potential merger between the ANPE and Unédic, even though Jobcentre Plus involves the integration of an even greater number of services, including some that form part of the social security system in France.


AMS:Government employment agency
CWI:Centre for Work and Income
DWP:Department of Work and Pensions
IFAU:Institute for Labour Market Policy Evaluation
OECD:Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
NAO:National Audit Office
PAP:Personalized Action Plan
ALMP:Active labor market programs
LMP:Labor market policies
RWI:Council for Work and Income
EES:European Employment Strategy
PES:Public Employment Service
UWV:Social security management institute