In academic and policy circles, much attention has been paid in recent years to the social participation of citizens. Each adult citizen providing his own livelihood and being involved in society is highly valued. Participation in the labour market is seen as a crucial factor. In many European countries, policy focuses on the fight against unemployment, the promotion of labour participation of women and the reintegration of people with labour disabilities (Serrano Pascual, 2004)

There are also great expectations on welfare policy, focusing on education and paid labour as fighters against societal disadvantage. Several authors point at the complexity of this disadvantage, calling it ‘modern poverty’. This involves not only a precarious financial situation but also exclusion from society: in other words, a permanent dependence on all kinds of government arrangements, habitation of stigmatized neighbourhoods and the use of particular cultural adaptation mechanisms (Jordan, 1996; Pearson, 1998; Van Berkel and Horneman-Moller, 2002).