ESN’s latest annual report ‘Bringing together Europe and local communities: Social services priorities for the European Semester 2018’ contains country profiles, cross-country analysis and policy recommendations based on analysis by ESN’s Reference Group on the European Semester.

ESN’s Reference Group has been contributing to the Commission’s European Semester cycle since 2014, encouraging greater priority to be given to social issues within the European Semester, the cycle of economic and social policy coordination between the Commission and the Member States.

The Reference Group is composed of senior leaders in social services at the local level, who are responsible for frontline services and the delivery of social policies. Their strategic position at local level means they are uniquely placed to comment on how social issues should be addressed at European level.

The 2018 European Semester cycle

On 22 November, the Commission published the 2018 Autumn Package, the first step of the 2018 European Semester cycle. The Annual Growth Survey included in this package of documents indicates that macro socio-economic conditions in the EU are improving. It also gives greater importance to social issues than in past years by recommending that the principles of the recently proclaimed European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR) are integrated into the European Semester, for instance, through country-specific recommendations for Member States. ESN welcomes this greater focus on the social dimension and encourages its continuation throughout the Semester, but calls on the Commission to look beyond employment when examining social issues. More detailed analysis by ESN on the 2018 AGS is available here.

Key messages from social services in 2017

A number of trends and themes emerge from the country profiles, with social services across Europe often tackling similar issues. These include the effects of the financial crisis, which remains a critical issue for social services, with cuts having a considerable and enduring impact on families and vulnerable groups. The effects of the financial crisis are evident, for example, in high youth and long-term unemployment, with social services highlighting the need to introduce measures which can improve people’s competences and quality of life.

Housing exclusion has been highlighted as an increasingly severe issue. For example in Dublin, Ireland, 6,314 homeless adults accessed emergency accommodation between January and December 2016, 42% of whom were doing so for the first time. It is clear that this is no longer affecting just the most vulnerable groups, and that it will remain a salient issue in the future.

Group members highlighted the role of EU funds in supporting community-care, the creation of new social services and aiding the implementation of social inclusion strategies for specific populations, such as the Roma or refugees. However, they also emphasised that the EU places too much focus on outputs rather than actual outcomes, which often leads to poor implementation.

Conclusion

Despite the picture presented by the Commission of improving socio-economic conditions, ESN’s Reference Group indicates that social services at the local level are tackling a number of pressing challenges. The analysis of the situation in their countries and their policy recommendations provide the Commission with a valuable local perspective on these issues, as the Commission prepares the country reports which are the next step of the European Semester and due to be published in February 2018.

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