As EU leaders meet today and tomorrow to agree a €750bn recovery plan in response to the economic shock brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, the European Social Network (ESN) highlights the essential role of social services in Europe’s recovery. 

The European Commission introduced regulatory changes to several European funds through the Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative to allow European countries to rapidly re-direct part of the funds to Covid-19 related measures. However, with no specific guidelines for social services, it has been up to national governments to decide how to manage the process.

During the lockdown, the stock of personal protective equipment (PPE) was bought mostly by health authorities, which meant that social services and social care authorities and providers had serious difficulties getting hold of the necessary equipment to carry out their statutory duties. Therefore, it transpired the need for a more coordinated national response.

Learning from past experience, EU leaders can lead the way by recognising the crucial role played by social services in the inclusion of people and communities across Europe due to their nature as essential services. Designating social services as ‘essential services’ is crucial to ensure access to protective equipment, better resource allocation, and maintaining and adapting social services operations.

This recognition within EU official communications can pave the way for social services to be part of the European instruments developed to support national governments in the follow up to the crisis.

Social services are essential to address the impact of the crisis. They are needed to support individuals and communities, identify what community resources become available, help with grief and trauma, ensure that people have access to basic needs, and to support the recovery process.

However, public authorities and organisations providing social services are facing increasing challenges to support those in need and to do so in the safest and most adequate way.

Ensuring the resilience of social services will in turn safeguard the resilience of the people who are supported by social services. But this is a sector that is now reaping a bitter harvest of over a decade of failure to adequately invest in them and will therefore need to secure smarter investment.

Measures supporting the sector could include a specific support fund for social services and put in place the necessary measures for example through specific European and national helpdesks to help those in the ground navigate the system to be able to access it.

Making sure that within the recovery plan there is a specific allocation for social services will provide hope for frontline services that they will be able to access the resources they need to give the best possible support in the safest and most effective way.