Significant improvements in social conditions have been achieved in recent years due to the combination of economic growth and effective social protection. Nevertheless, social distress remains only too common. The main way traditional social policy has addressed
this is through publicly‐provided benefits ‐ to protect individuals against the risks of life and to ensure that economic and social development move in tandem. However, this traditional model is under increasing pressure today, because of concerns about its
affordability and because of a widelyheld view that many clients are badly served by existing programmes. At the root of social distress are structural factors that are common to all OECD countries: the more unequal distribution of market income, shifts in disadvantage among
stages in the individual's life‐course, rapid ageing of the population, more diverse family patterns and changing labour‐market conditions. More and more countries are introducing active social policies to tackle the challenges posed by these trends.
This move to a more active approach aims to encourage individuals to participate as fully as possible in economic and social life. It is based on recognition of the rights and responsibilities of individuals and organisations as part of the broader community where they live and function.
These reforms typically combine efforts to give all children a better start in life, to help parents reconcile work and family responsibilities, to help individuals overcome barriers to work, to make work pay and to respond to the needs of people in the latter part of their
life. While the specifics of active social policies vary according to the life‐course of individuals and specific country circumstances, their common thrust is the need to go beyond insuring individuals against the risks of life, towards a greater focus on investing
in peoples' capabilities and enabling them to realise their full potential throughout their lives.