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In light of the recent report from the High Level Group (HLG) on the Future of the Welfare State, the European Social Network (ESN) joined forces with Eurodiaconia to publish recommendations highlighting the importance of prioritising investment in social services, which have been defined by the European Commission as the cornerstone of social welfare.

As well as providing a lifeline for people in need of support, particularly during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, the current cost-of-living crisis and the ongoing humanitarian crisis as a result of the war in Ukraine, social services cut across EU policy strategies and initiatives to support sustainable employment and inclusive growth. The interplay between the different levels of policy development and implementation (EU, national, regional, and local) leads to complex legal, regulatory and funding frameworks across and within countries. Bringing the voice, knowledge and expertise of over 230 public authorities responsible for social services and non-for-profit providers of social services across Europe, these joint recommendations aim to address the main trends, challenges, and opportunities in social services from three main perspectives:

  1. Implementation of EU legal and policy frameworks
  2. Financing
  3. Challenges intrinsic to the sector, such as workforce related matters, digitalisation related trends and the growing complexity and evolution of the needs of people using social services.

To present the joint recommendations addressed to the European Commission and national governments, a joint webinar was held on 14th March. “Since the 2010 EU guidance on quality in social services, the concept of quality has been evolving, which has prompted the need to rethink the way we look at it," said Elona Bokshi, ESN Policy Manager.

Members of both organisations shared their first-hand experience of delivering social services in Germany and Sweden. Julia Zillinger and Friederike Mussgnug of Diakonie Deutschland highlighted the need for a more flexible national social law, so that national and local social authorities can become more resilient by being able to adapt their regulations to changing challenges more quickly. Graham Owen from the Swedish Association of Social Services Directors outlined the challenges faced by social services in their move to digitalisation, such as supporting the workforce and service users to overcome the digital gap; and the need for integration between the different systems used by the diverse agencies involved in the delivery of social services.

He also referred to the shortage of care workers: “The current unemployment level in Sweden is 8.8%. A tremendous, untapped workforce could be introduced to social care,” said Mr. Owen.

Views on the role of social services for the future of the welfare state

Dana-Carmen Bachmann, Head of the Social Protection Unit, at the European Commission’s DG Employment and Social Affairs, shared how the European Commission is responding to these social challenges, highlighting the recent EU Care Strategy or the recommendation on minimum income schemes recently agreed by EU national governments. However, she pointed out that it was the responsibility of EU Member States to take many of the recommendations of the HLG forward. In addition, she stressed the importance of the technical support instrument, including the one on social innovation, for the successful design and implementation of key reforms in Member States. “We need to ensure more agility in the care system” Ms Bachman concluded.

Prof. Jozef Pacolet, a member of the High Level Group responsible for compiling the report, underlined the challenge of social services workforce recruitment and the urgent need for “ensuring upskilling and lifelong learning.” He also underlined the need for sustainable financing to guarantee the long-term provision of quality social services. "The welfare social state is about actively fostering human flourishing and well-being" Mr Pacolet said confirming the need for people to be at the centre of social services.

Highlighting the importance of this joint collaboration, Heather Roy, Eurodiaconia’s Secretary General,  explained: “We have seen a political policy direction go towards long-term care because of the mega trend of demographic change. There is a potential danger that we leave behind some of the other types of social services. Therefore, our recommendations look across the broad spectrum of social services and their use. We want quality for everybody, we want to see the best use of EU funding and national funding to achieve that.”

Alfonso Lara-Montero, ESN’s CEO, made three points as he concluded the event: “First, the European Commission can play a strong role and work with national governments to recast the 2010 voluntary framework for social services. Second, there should be a strategy on the social services workforce as part of the wider implementation of the European Care Strategy. Third, financing should be an incentive to promote a new model of care based on the family, home and the community.”

Download the recommendations here.

Watch the discussions here