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On Friday 24 April, the European Social Network (ESN) held the webinar ‘Covid-19 crisis: current challenges and future responses’ with the participation of Katarina Ivanković-Knežević, Social Policy Director at the European Commission.

From the start of the crisis, the European Commission tried to mobilise all the necessary means to support national authorities and coordinate national responses, though as it was recognised by President Von der Leyen the response has not always been that coordinated. Public health, borders and mobility, crisis management, research, fighting disinformation, economic measures have been some of the areas of the EU’s response to the Covid-19 crisis. However, the list does not include social care and social services, which ESN feels are essential to support health to provide a comprehensive answer to the Covid-19 crisis.

The EU with the Coronavirus Response Initiatives CRI and CRI+ involved in first instance the immediate mobilisation of EU Structural Funds so that the money, which had been unspent or had not been contracted, was made available to national authorities. The second package of financial support introduced additional flexibility so that all the uncommitted money from current European cohesion policy funds can be mobilised to address the effects of the crisis. Transfers will be possible between different funds, regions and policy programmes without the need to resort to long administrative procedures. Measures related to the crisis can be financed 100% by EU funds so that these funds do not need to be matched by national co-financing.

But ‘how can CRI be used by local social services?’ asked one of the 200 participants who attended the webinar. Ms Ivanković-Knežević explained that these funds are managed within the countries and that social inclusion related priorities are usually managed by the social ministry. Therefore, it is crucial that national ministries are aware of social services priorities so that they are provided with the necessary funding.

The European Commission also supported that the fund for European aid for the most deprived, FEAD, can be used to buy personal protective equipment for those delivering aid, and the possibility to use e-vouchers for the distribution of food and goods to reduce risks for the beneficiaries and for those delivering support.

Ms Ivanković-Knežević explained that the European Commission has launched specific mechanisms to support jobs and people at work; for instance, for the creation of national short-term job schemes. There have been significant challenges across most countries related to residential and home care services for older people with dependency needs. Older people services in all countries have been facing similar problems regarding staff absences, equipment and support.

“With staff shortages, the need for short-term staff and quick training become increasingly important. We’ve seen significant challenges in residential care, and for more independent living, home care and support we will need an additional workforce of all sorts from qualified nurses and rehabilitators to those providing personal and household services” said Ms Ivanković-Knežević.

We learned that the European Commission will revise its annual work programme with a roadmap that will be based on epidemiological criteria, and for which sufficient health capacity is crucial. In addition to health care facilities and staff, ESN would also like the European Commission to acknowledge the need to invest in social care organisations and social care staff capacities and skills.

The coming months and possibly coming years will see a rethink of long-term care. Though the European Commission has never launched a specific long-term care initiative, we have seen within countries different levels of quality, availability and accessibility specifically when it comes to services for older people. There will need to be a rethink of how we approach the financing of care for older people and what workforce we need to care for them. This will also include how education and training can respond to the new challenges, and for this we need to rethink how we promote the attractiveness of the sector between young people.