In this article, we focus on how the United Kingdom, Germany and Norway govern and balance young unemployed claimants’ right to social benefits with conditions of compulsory activities, with the aim of their transition into employment. In the three countries mentioned, we have examined and compared the national legislation and regulations, as well as how case workers in job centres experience these tools in their work with activating the young unemployed.
Balancing the individuals’ right of benefits with the job centre’s right and duty to impose conditions and activities as well as to sanction non-compliance, is also a matter of balancing national legislation with international human rights instruments. We have therefore analysed the three countries’ legislation and job centre conduct in light of the human right to non-discrimination and equality.
To find answers to our research questions, we have studied the legal framework and human rights instruments addressing social security, conditionality and non-discrimination, and interviewed caseworkers regarding their leeway for individual professional discretion.
We find that the human right of substantive equality is challenged in all three countries. Claimants’ commitments can entail stigma, stereotyping and shame, legislation can fail to provide the leeway necessary for accommodating for differences between the individuals, and sanctioning can represent a system of paternalism rather than social citizenship.