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With an undertaking to make Europe more social, the Spanish Government took over the EU Presidency in July 2023, committing to promote issues highly relevant to social services, including the transition to community-based care, de-institutionalisation of child protection systems, and strengthening social protection, including access to adequate minimum income. In the past months, the Presidency has undertaken several actions to advance on those issues. So, what progress can we see before Belgium takes over the Presidency next January?

Advancing person-centred and community-based care

On 9-10 October, the European Social Network (ESN), the Spanish EU Presidency and the Regional Government of Catalonia co-organised a seminar to discuss how to advance the transition towards community-based care. At the event, Luis Barriga, Director of the Spanish National Social Services Institute (IMSERSO), said that Spain has put on the table Council Conclusions for the transition to care models in the community, which could be approved during the Spanish Presidency. Their approval by national social affairs ministers at the next Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council taking place on 27-28 November 2023 is important to further promote a change in the model of care to make it more community-based.

ESN would like to see the Presidency focusing more on the role of social services in this journey towards community-based care as the approach seems too fragmented for the process to be well integrated. A preparatory step towards the publication of the Conclusions was the conference focused on the right to care on 18-19 October, where Acting Minister Ione Belarra said, “Older people want to stay in their homes for as long as possible with sufficient support, and at the moment it is only being guaranteed as a privilege for those people who can afford it.” This is why it is important the Spanish government puts in place the mechanisms to ensure this privilege is extended to the wider community.  

Fighting child poverty and de-insitutionalising child-protection

A milestone still to be addressed by the Spanish Presidency is a plan to adopt a Council Recommendation to advance the fight against poverty and deinstitutionalise the child protection system. ESN is a strong advocate for community-based child protection and hopes the Spanish Presidency will succeed on finalising the Council Recommendation. However, we are very concerned that this process has been undertaken without consulting key partners such as children’s social services representatives in public authorities, which undermines the proposals. Key elements of community-based child protection should include integrated working across public agencies with statutory duties for child protection, family support, foster care and support for foster families, and a recognition that while social services are key in taking care of children under protection this is a responsibility for all agencies working with children. These are some of the conclusions we put forward in recent ESN  responses to EU consultations such as Investing in Children’s Services, Improving Outcomes” or our proposals for the implementation of the European Child Guarantee.

Enhancing labour market and social inclusion policies

Part of Spain’s Presidency programme has also been a proposal for a Council Recommendation on minimum income, including initiatives to reduce  benefits non-take up and discussing the implementation of inclusion pathways for beneficiaries.

At a recent conference on new active employment policies, Nicolas Schmit, European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights highlighted, “the Council Recommendations on adequate minimum income and (...) on long-term unemployment insist on measures to accompany people who are able to work back to the labour market (...) - meaning re-skilling programmes, incentives, and individualised support.’’ While ESN strongly supports this integrated view, we have also highlighted that supporting people’s social inclusion cannot be done solely from an employment perspective. According to ESN’s latest research on integrated minimum income, it is essential that vulnerable people are supported in a holistic manner bringing together the support available by social services together with health, education, housing and employment services. For this to happen effectively, national governments should develop a legislative framework that enables collaboration and joint working between authorities across administrative levels.

ESN looks forward to the achievement of the Spanish EU Presidency’s social agenda and hopes that in its efforts to deliver on its commitments, the Spanish government will reach out to the organisations on the ground that are delivering the many policies and services they intend to address through their proposed Recommendations. ESN hopes the upcoming Belgian Presidency will bring some of the initiatives started by the Spanish Presidency forward, notably in areas related to child protection, long-term care and integrated minimum income and social services.