Instead of unemployment or poverty the European Commission has focused on 'social exclusion'. It has been made the biggest challenge for the social and employment policies of the EU that are still in the process of being developed. Through the European Union this rhetoric has diffused to the national political programmes of the EU countries. Difficulties in integrating with the labour market are seen as the main cause for social exclusion. It is also assumed that one form of social exclusion increases the risk of other forms developing. This widely dispersed but poorly studied assumption influences e.g. the discussion on how the unemployed can be activated. The article studies this assumption empirically. The European Commission Household Panel (ECHP) data is utilised to analyse whether a weak labour market integration, and the poverty that often follows, affect a household's level of activity in associations and networks. The study shows that weak integration with the labour market is related to poverty in all the studied countries. But poverty combined with weak labour market integration does not predict that a household has weak social networks or that no member of the household participates in official associations. Thereby the results of this study do not support the assumption that forms of social exclusion accumulate in any of the EU countries. In its fight against social exclusion, European employment and social policy has started to emphasise activation instead of social insurance and means-tested benefits. This change in the emphasis of policies is, however, based on assumptions and claims that have not been verified in empirical research. The danger with these activation programmes is however, that in the event of failure the reasons might be searched for among the targets of the activation. In that case, problems that are clearly economic and social in character, such as unemployment, are easily conceptualised as a psychosocial and cultural problem of social exclusion.
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