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“These principles are not just poetry and symbolism; it is about a commitment taken by institutions to ensure a diverse social Europe and to bring together social workers.” With these words, Jean-Claude Juncker, former President of the European Commission, at the opening of the European Employment & Social Rights Forum, emphasised that Europe must have a strong determination to achieve its social ambitions. The Forum took place five years after the launch of the European Pillar of Social Rights to discuss achievements across Europe since its launch and new initiatives like the EU Care Strategy and the social dimension of the green transition.

Taking Stock: 5 years of the European Pillar of Social Rights

Ursula von der Leyen, the current European Commission President, mentioned some initiatives made possible by the European Pillar of Social Rights. For example, proposals on minimum wage, the EU Child Guarantee to support children across Europe out of poverty and promote their social inclusion, the Youth Guarantee to provide young people with support in employment, and the European Care Strategy. Ms von der Leyen noted that “rights should follow the pace of change, and Europe should explore the new frontier of social rights, making the social focus strong in all policies.”

However, the European Pillar has been assessed as too employment-focused or not putting in place the tools for implementation challenges. Dragos Pislaru, Chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, criticised the lack of progress on the EU Child Guarantee, stating that “12 EU Member States have not come up with an implementation plan- so it is not as effective.”

ESN voiced these same concerns recently, highlighting that even where such plans were already in place, social services were not involved. ESN hopes to see national coordinators reach out to social services working directly with children and families to ensure their concerns are considered during implementation.  

EU Care Strategy – Implications for Social Services

The EU Care Strategy - one of the key initiatives putting the Pillar principles into practice – was intensively discussed, particularly the care workforce, access, and quality. “The Swedish government has taken several actions to increase the attractiveness of the care sector, including the recognition of assistant nurses as care professionals with proper certification, additional funds for skills development and a programme to enhance language competencies of care staff,” explained Jenny Wada from the Swedish Ministry of Social Affairs.  Next year, the 31st European Social Services Conference, organised by ESN in Malmö (Sweden) will discuss how digitalisation and technology-driven processes can help to improve the care experience of carers and people in need of support.

Maria Karagiannidou, researcher at the London School of Economics, highlighted the need to make the care sector more attractive to men because of the vast overrepresentation of women in formal and informal care. This echoes ESN’s CEO, Alfonso Lara Montero’s recent call to the European Commission to work with national governments to implement specific social services workforce strategies to improve the attractiveness of the sector. This issue will be a theme within the series of workshops on the workforce that ESN will organise next year.

“Quality assurance policies should align with current paradigm shifts towards outcome-oriented care, quality of life, co-production with people in care, a culture of improvement and openness to mistakes, as well as stronger integration of health and social support,” said Flaviana Teodosiu, long-term care team leader at the European Commission, summarising discussions in quality of care. ESN was the first European organisation to work on social care quality and published a model of the triangulation of care within its 2010 report Contracting for Quality. Our 2019 Striving for Quality report underlined key principles for quality in care and social services. We have just launched a working group on quality, which will analyse models of quality assurance in Europe to support the Commission's review of its social services quality framework which dates back to 2010. As we did then, we are ready to support the Commission with our specialist knowledge and experience.

Author: Hannah McDonnell