On 22 and 23 September, ESN held its annual meeting of the European Semester Reference Group. The meeting, which took place online, also included participants from the European Social Observatory (OSE) and the European Commission. The meeting focused on the responses of the Group members to a questionnaire on data and policies related to three key  European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR)  principles: Principle 11 on Childcare and assistance to children, Principle 18 on Long-Term Care and Principle 19 on Housing and assistance to homelessness.

Much needed recognition of community social services

Alfonso Lara Montero, CEO of ESN, highlighted several important horizontal policy messages that emerged from the analysis of the questionnaires. Chief amongst these was that public social services are key to implementing the EPSR at the local level. Moreover, it was stated by the CEO of ESN that public social services need to be recognised by legislation as essential and as a priority for investment to support services, including workforce development and strengthening.

These interconnected issues were also evident in the cross-country analysis presented by Boris Fronteddu, Research Officer with OSE. Foremost among these was the absence of initiatives to strengthen community and family-based care (Principle 11), fragmentation in health and social care services in community settings (Principle 18) and persistent issues in housing supply and support (Principle 19). Through the online exchange some members highlighted recommendations to address these issues such as promotion of foster care, strengthening community and home supports for older people, and comprehensive and integrated housing and social services.

Six Members, (Greece, Malta, Germany, Italy, Ireland and Latvia) presented practice related to the three principles of the EPSR addressed at the meeting. Interesting comparisons were drawn between countries and similar difficulties were identified as being experienced at the national levels, all of which had been captured in the cross-country analysis. On Principle 11, Ms Eleni Georgakakou (Greece) and Mr Steve Libreri (Malta) underlined the importance of investment in foster care and community-based services for children. On Principle 18, Prof. Johannes Schädler (Germany) and Mr Tobias Voltan (Italy) highlighted the need for better coordination between health and social service on long-term care in community and home settings.  Finally, both Ms Aideen McDonnell (Ireland) and Mārtiņš Moors (Latvia) emphasised the need for comprehensive housing services and plans to address the ongoing problem of homelessness and housing shortages.

Investment in social services missing in European guidance

Filip Tanay of the European Commission (EC) underscored the importance of the EPSR as a compass for the EC in its efforts to achieve Fairness. Mr. Tanay stated that 2021 would be unusual in that there would be no Country Specific Recommendations (CSRs), with the exception of financial CSRs for Member States. Further to this Mr. Tanay highlighted that the two policy priority pillars for the current EC would be the Green Deal and Technology. Many members expressed concerns that social policy areas key to social services had been left out. Particular concern was highlighted that the current programme had not included within the Recovery and Resilience facility the requirement of member states to include investment in social services  in their plans.

In his final statement, Mr Alfonso Lara Montero stressed the importance of regarding social services as a social investment and underscoring that they build social capital as well as being a vital part of any functioning economy. Social services therefore must be part of a sustainable recovery for Europe, he said.

Meeting follow up

Despite the clear difficulties caused by COVID-19 and the impact this has had on public social services, 17 questionnaires were received and country profile reports, along with corresponding recommendations, have been  developed and will be published in a publication in October.

 

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