The Covid-19 crisis has tested our immune systems, but it has also tested social services systems across Europe. While we have grown increasingly accustomed to being reminded about the consequences of Covid-19 on our health and our economies, we are far less aware of the impact that the pandemic has had on social inclusion.

Yet, we currently live in a state of social emergency. Therefore, at the European Social Network (ESN) we have been documenting throughout 2020 how the pandemic has been impacting social services working with the most vulnerable in countries across Europe.

Public social services authorities have faced similar challenges in the provision of social services to those in need during the Covid-19 emergency, exacerbating issues that were already present before the crisis.

During the first lockdown, access and provision of personal protective equipment (PPE), acute staff shortages and lack of funding and adequate infrastructure, represented major challenges for public social services in local communities across Europe.

Children and youth were particularly impacted by the pandemic. Due to school closures, the most vulnerable could not access support services operating through schools such free school meals, leading to the increase in the numbers of children at risk of poverty. Many vulnerable children weren’t adequately supported at home because their parents were essential workers in low paid jobs who were still going to work, or did not have the knowledge, skills, or equipment to school their children at home.

The pandemic has also seen a rise in domestic abuse, specifically violence against women and children. ESN members reported a large drop in calls to the domestic and child protection helplines, particularly during the first lockdown, resulting in child protection concerns potentially being underreported to the authorities.

People with disabilities and older adults saw a reduction in social services, such as therapy sessions and day centres closures. Homeless people were particularly at risk of infection because of not being able to isolate. Public social services struggled to protect residents and provide support to non-self-sufficient older people living at home or in residential homes.

“People with disabilities who used to go to day care centres have been missing contact with carers.” - Carlos Santos Guerrero, Department for Social Inclusion of the Regional Government of Galicia (Spain)

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, public social services across Europe implemented several measures to continue providing for those in need of support. Some were implemented through legislation and policy. Others related to coordination with different levels of government and across sectors, using technological tools and a series of investments in benefits and services to respond to social emergency situations.

A year has now passed, and we are therefore launching this publication to report on the pandemic’s social impact on the most vulnerable, the challenges faced by social services to address the social consequences of the crisis, and the responses provided by the authorities and those at the frontline. This is a living document that will be updated towards the end of 2021 with information on the ways authorities have been adapting to respond to a continuously uncertain situation.