A project to improve social services’ access to EU funding – the EU Social Services Helpdesk – was launched in Brussels on 20 October.
Alfonso Lara Montero, European Social Network (ESN)’s CEO, opened the event highlighting the importance of the partnership which has brought together ESN as the network for public social services with private not-for-profit social services providers to support social services across the spectrum to access EU funding for their programmes. Mr Montero highlighted the innovation of this unique joint piece of work which should help those working locally better understand how they can use EU funds to put in place innovation and best practice. “This is also an opportunity for the European Commission to understand better the challenges that social services have to fulfil their statutory duties and respond to people’s needs, as social services are crucial in supporting every one of us who may have support needs at any moment in our lives,” explained Mr Montero.
Mr Jeroen Jutte, Head of Unit of the European Social Fund at the European Commission, highlighted the importance of the project’s bottom-up approach, which will help in bridging knowledge gaps between the real needs of social services and the decisions being made at European level. He shared some insights about social services provision in Bulgaria and Romania gained during his previous role and underlined the crucial role this project can play in supporting and improving services, which have been responding to an unremitting series of crises including Covid-19, supporting Ukrainian refugees, the rise of energy poverty and the current cost-of-living crisis.
Mr Jutte added that the European Commission wants to invest in social services and is providing €11 billion to support and improve initiatives across all European countries. However, ensuring that these funds can be used in the most efficient way, to meet the real needs on the ground, would be one of the most important outcomes. “Your success will be the Commission’s success,” he said.
The launch event highlighted many of the challenges of accessing EU funding, not only how information is shared, the application process but also questions related to policy development and prioritisation of needs at national level. Ms Deirdre Casey of Pobal, Ireland, and Ms Blanka Mršić Valinčić, Head of Service of the Croatian Ministry of Labour and Pensions, Family and Social Policy, shared some interesting insights on their countries’ efforts to improve social inclusion and how they are adapting systems with the support of EU funding to support social needs. Ms Blanka Mršić Valinčić explained how, within the framework of the Croatian social care system, third sector actors were crucial in creating innovative paradigms in using EU funding. This was later utilized to build public authorities' capacity through targeted calls resulting in better absorption of EU funding for social services.
This event is the first in a series of activities the EU Helpdesk aims to implement in the next 2 years including a series of national events, sector-focus and management related training sessions As part of this learning process, we are currently gathering information on the use of EU funding across countries through a survey which is open until mid-November.