With €672.5 billion in grants and loans, the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) is the main component of ‘NextGenerationEU’, the recovery package agreed by the EU in 2020 to address the social and economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic.

On 10 February, the European Parliament voted on the central element of the package, the Recovery and Resilience Mechanism (RRM). On the same day, Ana Paula Zacarias, secretary of state for European affairs in Portugal, responsible for the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU, reiterated the importance of the recovery plan being implemented without delay.

Back in September, I highlighted that despite the heavy toll of Covid-19 on social care and social services, the social impact of the pandemic seemed to be largely missing from European Commission’s guidelines on Member States recovery and resilience plans. Then the Commission proposed to national authorities that their reforms were articulated along “upskilling and reskilling, reducing labour market segmentation, and improving labour market participation”. However, these proposals fail to address the social services and social care sectors that continue to be confronted with years of failure to invest adequately in public health and social care services.

Focusing on activation

It is still early days, but an initial assessment of eight of the 19 draft national plans submitted to the Commission seem to reiterate that the approach to addressing social issues has been taken primarily through reskilling and labour market activation. For example, France’s plan focuses strongly on youth activation dedicating around €13 billion, while just €100 million has been earmarked for support for the most vulnerable. In the Czech Republic, the plan is primarily focused on providing education and vocational training that responds to digitisation and automation of work. In Germany, just 4.7% is devoted to social inclusion, with a proposal to invest 61% of this amount in vocational training for young people.

Other plans acknowledge the importance of social services to fight the impact of the pandemic. For instance, Italy’s plan recognises much needed funding for social services for the most vulnerable, such as children, the unemployed, people with disabilities and older people. Social inclusion is one of the plan’s three strategic axes with an allocation of €27.6 billion, of which €10.8 billion are dedicated to social infrastructure, family and community services. Portugal’s plan also promotes investment in facilities, particularly in nursing homes and early childcare. Spain’s plan mentions the economy of care, but funding proposals seem to suggest the financing is to be directed mostly towards institutional and residential facilities rather than community and home-based care.

Funding to help shift the care model

For the most part, current plans appear to miss a focus on social services and social care innovation and reform towards a more community and home-based model, and specifically funding for their workforce. By doing so, they fail to grasp the economic impact that a well-resourced social services sector adds and ignore the evidence that increased participation in the labour market by vulnerable groups would be helped through investing in the sector.

Data show that, as part of the national implementation of the RRF, national governments need to invest in structural reforms that transform the care model to one that promotes preventive family and local community social services, reinforces home care, ensures community social care after hospital discharge, and addresses current employment and skill gaps.