Directors of social services manage a considerable amount of money and, thanks to their position, they understand perfectly the difficulties of successfully having positive outcomes from the investments made in social policy. Consulting them is key and it is important that the European level recognises the fact that the national level does not always address properly local problems. Therefore, the dialogue we aim to create with the European Social Network (ESN)’s Reference Group on the European Semester and the European Commission is crucial to ensure a two-fold objective. First, that European social policies are well informed by the issues affecting those on the ground; and second to engage with local citizens to secure policy implementation.
Today we are publishing ESN’s annual report on the European Semester with key messages from senior leaders in social services to feed into the 2019 European Semester cycle at European and national levels. They illustrate achievements, progress and challenges across a number of areas, highlighting positive examples and making policy recommendations where suitable.
There are several recurring themes that have emerged when analysing the countries presented in this report, regardless of their social welfare systems:
- Despite a more positive economic outlook, the impact of the financial crisis is still significant on how social services are being managed and how social policy is being implemented;
- The development of community-based services across the life cycle and its implications for new ways of working in social services, in particular the need for enhanced coordination across services and sectors;
- The promotion of inclusive policies for those people more in need, such as the long-term unemployed, people with disabilities or people with mental health problems, and refugees;
- Administrative reforms across Europe, whether decentralising service management and provision or addressing overlaps and recentralising certain services.
A broader view of social inclusion
This year the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR) has helped to strengthen the social dimension of the European Semester. However, most indicators still rely on employment as the sole and main route to inclusion whilst we’ve realised that this is not always the case and there are a significant number of social protection principles for which data is not being collected at European level even though realising these principles is a key duty of social services, and senior professionals at local social services could support the process.
Quality social services, including housing, community-based services for children and youth, people with disabilities and people with long-term conditions have been identified by the Group members as key to implement the social protection principles included in the third chapter of the EPSR and should be given more attention in the framework of the European Semester.
Where there is a lack of data for monitoring one of the principles, the European Commission could encourage cooperation with Member States and networks of local stakeholders to identify ways of providing these data as this would support implementation of the EPSR.
Social services quality
Despite a positive economic outlook in the EU with unemployment rates at their lowest in ten years, members tell us that behind the numbers recovery has not yet reached many people. Social services continue to support people with increasing needs while still facing budgetary constraints in many Member States.
There is an important case to be made for greater social investment, especially into social services. They are recognised as pillars of European societies and economics because of their contributions to employment, social protection, health, equality, and cohesion. They undoubtedly provide a significant return on investment by improving people’s quality of life and empowering vulnerable people to become more independent. They also represent important employers with over 20 million people employed in health and social services in the EU.
To ensure successful implementation of the European principles, the policy analysis and recommendations from the European Commission must connect to the priorities of local social services whose work on promoting the social inclusion of vulnerable people is critical for making those principles a reality.