The European Social Policy Network has published a thematic report on social investment policies across Europe: Social Investment in Europe - A study of national policies at the request of the European Commission. 

A social investment approach has been given more emphasis in recent years due to the impact of the economic crisis and with many countries implementing austerity policies to reconcile increasing demands and decreasing budgets. The report found two clusters of countries with different social investment approaches. The first cluster (AT, BE, CH, DE, DK, FI, FR, IS, LI, NL, NO, SE, SI) groups 13 countries where social investment approaches are more established. The second cluster (CY, ES, HU, IE, LU, MT, PL, PT, UK) includes 9 countries, which show increasing awareness and have started to adopt parts of a social investment approach. The cluster with a more established approach tends to maintain and expand institutional ties across various policy fields, notably when responding to pressing social issues. In contrast, the cluster with a comparatively poorly established approach develops social investment with more isolated elements.

Framing social investment in social services

Social services are part of the different areas analysed in this report and incorporate a range of relevant topics such as benefits and welfare provision. The report argues that the ‘availability and quality of activating and enabling social services is a precondition for the implementation of comprehensive and integrated social investment strategies’. A highlighted example is the linking of benefits with the setting up of one-stop-shop arrangements.

Selected country examples: Belgium, Spain, Ireland

Individual country profiles provide an in-depth look at the national service frameworks and their socio-economic contexts. For example, Belgium’s budgetary consolidation measures have impacted on social services, notably since the 2012 unemployment reforms. In the field of minimum income, the increase of young people seeking benefits accelerated considerably and they have been subject to benefits’ reductions. Relatively speaking, when compared to other population groups, young people over proportionately receive minimum income. In Spain, local authorities were heavily affected by the crisis, which meant they had to respond to urgent basic needs (food and monetary help). This decreased the overall coverage as they had to focus resources on the most vulnerable; for example by tightening eligibility criteria to access services. In Ireland, social services seek to enable children and young people to enhance literacy and numeracy skills through addressing parents and communities. The approach embeds online tools to facilitate the strategy’s implementation.

ESN’s 2015 annual work programme has played a significant role in supporting a social investment approach throughout the life course in order to contribute to the modernisation of social protection systems and ensure a sustained economic recovery. Social investment, understood as an approach to promote person-centred, efficient and effective integrated social welfare services, has been the lead theme in a number of our activities, including the 22nd European Social Services Conference, the project Investing in children’s services, our working groups on Ageing and Care and Disability, and our work on Evidence and Innovation.