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The demand for social care, support, and protection is rapidly increasing across Europe, driven by a variety of factors, such as demographic changes and increasing inequalities. This surge in demand places significant pressure on public social services, which are already grappling with the financial implications of transitioning to person-centred care as well as recruitment and retention issues in their workforce. As a result, there is a growing risk that people will not receive essential care and support due to demand exceeding the capacity of social services to meet it. Failure to meet this demand also has the potential to widen inequality, dividing communities even further.

Unpacking demand management for social services

Demand management in the context of social services refers to the process of managing demand effectively and efficiently to improve the outcomes of the people they serve. The multi-faceted approach allows social services to effectively plan and allocate their resources, both human and financial, to deliver high-quality outcomes that are tailored to the actual needs of persons seeking support. It can fundamentally transform the relationship between social services and the individuals they support, ensuring that the right service reaches the right person when and where it's needed, all while optimising human and financial resources.

Like the concept of social services resilience, demand management begins with looking at the system, community and person levels to understand how demand manifests itself across all social services. By identifying the root cause of the demand and implementing changes that address these, the level of demand can be managed. The demand for social services can take many forms, from simple interactions like processing welfare payments online to addressing complex and diverse needs such as long-term care for those wishing to remain in their own homes. However, demand can also be driven inadvertently by organisational challenges and resource constraints that negatively impact the capacity of social services to address the root cause of social needs.

An emerging framework

To examine into this critical issue and identify solutions moving forward, the most recent meeting of European Social Network’s (ESN) working group on transformation and resilience focused on the issue of social services demand management. As a result, we have just published a briefing titled '’Building Resilience in Social Services by Managing Demand." 

In response to the growing demand for social services, ESN proposes a demand management framework that can support leaders in social services to bolster the resilience of their organisations and enhance the care and support offered to their communities. Demand management also provides social services with an opportunity to develop new approaches and adapt services to address the ongoing cycle of crisis management and build resilience. The framework centres around five pillars linked to person-centred design, prevention and early intervention, partnerships, data-driven services, and the workforce.

For a more comprehensive understanding of demand management in social services, including graphs, data, and case studies, download the full briefing here.