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The Covid-19 pandemic shook the foundations of European economies and societies. However, the pandemic has not been just a temporary crisis, it is also becoming now a laboratory for future social policies. With the costs of upheaval being borne primarily by the most vulnerable populations, the European Social Network (ESN) devoted its recent webinar on EU funding for social services to ensure that the future recovery strategy is also a social one.

Ensuring adequate EU Funding for Social Services

On 27 May, ESN members from national, regional and local authorities from 20 countries met with representatives of the European Parliament to discuss how to ensure an enduring social recovery and resilience of EU Member States. Special attention was given to those most affected by the pandemic – children, older people and persons at risk of poverty. The conclusions could not be clearer: “Without dedicating sufficient Recovery Fund resources on reforming social services, strengthening their workforce and providing them with adequate tools for remote provision and monitoring of services, any future crisis will have the same dire consequences for our societies”emphasised Mr Alfonso Lara Montero, ESN’s Chief Executive Officer.

ESN was also delighted to have two MEPs – Pedro Marques (S&D Group Bureau and Vice-president for a Strong Social Europe) and Dragoș Pîslaru (Renew Europe Coordinator of the Employment and Social Affairs Committee), as guests on the webinar. Mr Marques stressed that green and digital transformation is not enough to guarantee economic security for future generations. “Reskilling seems to be a magic word in European documents to help people transition between jobs. But in reality, we need much more - strong social services in regions and local communities are key to serve as a cushion for those for whom transitions have the most difficult consequences”, said Mr Marques. He also highlighted, that no National Recovery Plan should be approved by the European Commission if it is not in line with the Action Plan of the European Pillar of Social Rights.

Mr Pîslaru presented the activities of a working group in the European Parliament tasked with monitoring the National Recovery and Resilience Plans’ (NRRPs) content and their evaluation process. He regretted that social expenditures are often disregarded and discouraged by the European Commission evaluating NRRPs. He pointed out that spending on social services is not just an expenditure, but an investment that provides a measurable return to local communities. “The recovery programme has been named ‘NextGenerationEU’ by the European Commission. However, as long as the funds are not used to support disadvantaged children and youth, it will not have much to offer young people”, Mr Pîslaru asserted.

Key findings in initial assessment of National Recovery and Resilience Plans (NRRPs)

In addition to providing a forum for discussion, ESN’s webinar was an opportunity to present findings from a preliminary assessment of the NRRPs. These plans should set out a coherent package of reforms and public investment projects aiming at mitigating the economic and social impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. In their assessment, ESN members are checking the plans compatibility with the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR), the inclusion of sufficient investments for social services and whether they address key social challenges and the  populations most severely affected by the crisis. ESN also requested members whether they had been involved in the process of creating the plans and possible challenges regarding the management of these funds based on their experience of managing the European Social Fund (ESF).

Although some issues like unemployment support and investment in digitalisation (including social services digitalisation) are covered by most national plans, other themes equally relevant to achieving the objectives of the EPSR, such as child protection, social care strategies for older adults, and investment in the workforce, are far less prominent in most countries. ESN members believe that greater inclusion of regional and local authorities and third sector representatives responsible for social services in the development of the plans could have prevented these omissions and ensure a genuinely inclusive recovery strategy.

As more National Recovery and Resilience Plans are delivered to the European Commission, ESN will continue the evaluation process and share its insights and recommendations with European authorities. “Investments in social services are crucial to address the challenging consequences of Covid-19. We will make every effort to ensure that this fact is reflected both in European policies and in the decisions taken by Member States” – concluded the meeting Mr Lara-Montero.