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On 10-12 May the European Social Network (ESN) presented at the German Welfare Day on how social services across Europe promote access to disability rights across Europe. With this presentation we contributed to a wide-ranging conference programme which shed light on topics such as latest minimum income reforms in Germany and Europe and the impact of climate change on social services.

Promoting the autonomy of people with disabilities

Martin Lichte ESN's Policy Officer spoke at a parallel discussion on disability rights, providing an insight in ESN’s work on ensuring people’s access to disability and care services. At the upcoming European Social Services Conference, delegates will learn in a workshop how the City of Hamburg provides community-based services for people with disabilities with the project LIVING THE WAY I WANT. Also at the conference, participants will find out how the Vienna Social Fund, involves people with disabilities through a  Council for the design and evaluation of social services.

“Nothing About Us Without Us” is a key guiding principle of ESN’s work on disability services. All ESN meetings are designed to be fully accessible and involve people using services. Indeed, the conversation partly focused on events accessibility. Judith Antonie Anderssen from the Federal Agency for Accessibility shared guidelines on ensuring participation of people with disabilities in online, hybrid and onsite events. In 2019, ESN organised a dedicated seminar on co-production with the participation of people using services who highlighted practice examples of their involvement in planning, design, delivery and evaluation of social services.

Minimum income reforms in Germany and Europe

A widely discussed topic at the conference were the upcoming introduction of a basic child allowance (Kinder Grundsicherung) and the citizens income (Bürgergeld). Both initiatives aim to improve the situation of minimum income beneficiaries in Germany, reforming the current minimum income scheme, publicly known as “Harz4.” At the heart of the planned reforms is the abolishment of sanctions for minimum income beneficiaries, the extension of subsidiarised job placements for people far from the labour market and a guaranteed allowance for every child in poverty.

Not only in Germany, also at EU level, new initiatives aim to reform current policies on minimum income, and a dedicated parallel discussion highlighted the pros and cons of a European regulative framework on minimum income. Ulrike Geith, Head of Unit for Employment and Social Issues, Permanent Representation of Germany to the EU, was confident that the upcoming Council Recommendation on Minimum Income will be a key milestone in building strong minimum income schemes across the European Union. ESN submitted a contribution highlighting the need for minimum income to be accompanied by integrated social inclusion support.

Shaping the green transformation in a social way

The closing panel of the conference gave an outlook on upcoming social challenges arising from climate change. Severe weather events such as the catastrophic floods in Germany last summer will be increasingly likely, with a strong impact on local communities. At the same time, the green transformation will require huge investment in sustainability of housing, mobility and employment. Michael Löher, Executive Board of the German Association for Public and Private Welfare, called for political action to support the most vulnerable in these critical transformation times.