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The Porto Social Forum, taking place on 26-27 May in Portugal, aims to reignite the social policy agenda that was developed during the 2021 Porto Social Summit when EU leaders, representatives from European institutions, social partners, and civil society converged to reaffirm their commitment to the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR). Its purpose is to keep track of the EPSR’s progress by gathering support and deliberating on its most pressing issues, focusing on three key issues:

  • the European Year of Skills
  • Social Europe and the EPSR implementation
  • the social impact of the invasion of Ukraine in the aftermath of Covid-19.

The ‘European Year of Skills’ - an opportunity to strengthen the social services workforce

At the Forum, discussions will centre on how EU Member States can use the European Year of Skills to value skills and lifelong learning. The European Social Network (ESN) hopes it will also be an opportunity to re- and upskill the social services workforce. A recent report by the European Labour Authority states that “technology is changing the skill needs required in health and social care jobs.” At a recent European Presidency conference on the care sector workforce ESN’s CEO, Alfonso Lara Montero, stressed the importance of training the workforce on the use of technology and digital tools and supporting them to utilise technology in the best possible way to help them with their day-to-day work. The European Year of Skills provides an opportunity to make the digital transformation of the social care sector a reality.

ESN is already contributing to this discussion through the upcoming European Social Services Conference in Malmö, which will look at the role of technology in transforming social care and support.

Reaffirming the values of Social Europe

As EU leaders discuss progress in the implementation of the EPSR, their special attention should focus on the achievement of Principle 11 regarding children’s rights to education, care, and protection against poverty. In 2019, EU Member States adopted the European Child Guarantee to ensure equal opportunities for all children and break the cycle of social exclusion and deprivation. More than a year after the deadline for submitting National Action Plans, only 19 countries have so far released their plans. All member states should honour their commitments under the Child Guarantee and set up National Action Plans, where this has not yet been done.

“Local and regional social services for children play a crucial role in achieving the objectives of the Child Guarantee” Alfonso Lara Montero commented recently. Public social services, as key partners in delivering in most policy areas covered by the Child Guarantee, should be involved in the drafting, implementation and monitoring of these plans. However, there has been a lack of social services involvement in most cases so far and we therefore request national governments and the European Commission to work with social services to improve this situation. The Porto Social Forum should be a wake-up call to ensure access to basic rights and services for children in need and a co-ordinated and holistic approach to children’s care.

Reviving Communities: How recovery funds can rebuild our social services

When discussing the social impact of Covid-19, the invasion of Ukraine and the cost-of-living crisis, social ministers should ensure that social services are supported in their efforts to help vulnerable communities, into account. In our recent analysis of the 2022 EU Semester, ESN observed a strong impact on the most vulnerable population groups, such as children, people at risk of homelessness and those in residential care as a result of Covid-19. The Porto Social Forum should be a stimulus to strengthen further the EU’s commitment to the promotion of community care. EU Recovery Funds and programmes supported by the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+) should play a transformative role in steering investment in community-based, person-centred social services. In this context, our seminar in collaboration with the Spanish Presidency of the Council of the EU later this year will highlight how social services can lead the transition to community-based care and support for all populations.