This article, which covers five European countries – Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the UK – focuses on the major current trends and dynamics in policies for disabled people : non-discrimination, movement towards “activation policies”, decentralisation, and privatisation. All five countries have passed legislation against discrimination, but the implications of the concept vary considerably. In most of the countries studied, “assistance” policies have evolved towards so-called “active” policies. This is reflected in restricted access to disability benefit, which had hitherto been widely used to maintain the inactive status of older workers or workers deemed unemployable, and by the creation in parallel of numerous incentive schemes for training and employment of disabled workers. The growing role of local authorities in providing support for disabled people is a major feature but also a source of problems for current policy, particularly in Sweden and in Spain. In Germany, in spite of the federal set-up, there is a strong public consensus in support of uniform policies and benefits. Several countries are moving towards privatisation of benefits and services for disabled people, under the influence of new public management theories and in response to the state’s desire to disengage from this area to a certain extent. In conclusion, a trend seems to have emerged in recent years towards focusing support on the most seriously disabled persons.
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