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Over the years, the European Social Network (ESN) has consistently addressed social services challenges within the context of the European Semester, the cycle of economic and social policy coordination between the European Commission and national governments.

This month ESN launched the Social Services Index (SSI) to illustrate the social services situation in different countries to compare them across Europe. The identification of issues is done in three areas: social rights legislation and policy, social services economic investment, and social services coverage. The first Index covers 9 countries with information that will be useful when the EU carries out its national assessments and produce national reports and recommendations.

A Social Services Index - Why and the issues identified  

At the launch meeting, ESN CEO Alfonso Lara Montero reiterated ESN recommendations contained in our briefing 'A Care Guarantee for All,' in line with the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR). Emphasising the importance of an integrated approach for effective social inclusion, Mr Montero highlighted how the Social Services Index “is a key tool to inform the European Commission about the challenges social services face, the European Commission can use when they develop their national reports, and should be extended to cover as many EU countries as possible.”

The Index was supported by two speakers who attended the launch event: MEP Dragoş Pîslaru, Rapporteur for the EU Semester in the European Parliament, and Michael Gast, Team Leader of ‘European Semester’ in the European Commission Directorate General for Employment, Social Affairs, and Inclusion.

Both EU representatives offered their insights on future political priorities for the European Parliament (EP) and the European Commission (EC). MEP Pîslaru underlined that most social services deliver both social and economic outcomes, emphasising the intersection of social justice and investment. Michael Gast encouraged ESN members to be proactive at national level by linking up with EU national Permanent Representatives and European Semester desk officers to provide them with input from the Social Services Index.

Common issues identified across the 9 countries covered included data collection challenges, funding gaps affecting coverage and quality, disparities in service quality, the absence of comprehensive overarching plans to address homelessness, and a lack of policy coordination across agencies.

Mapping the way forward

We identified issues with different concepts and definitions that impact the information we managed to gather, as information comes from multiple national, regional or local sources, and is not collected on an annual basis.

Improvement in the information we gather should help us understand better the social services situation in the countries the Index covers. For example, we should be able to understand whether the rising number of children in child protection services is the result of improved awareness and better identification or inadequate preventive measures. A similar trend can be observed in adult social care or homelessness prevention. Having in place specific social services legislation in the country together with a proper plan and adequate investment are also crucial to support improvement in the sector.