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21st European Social Services Conference: Day 3

“Investing in people, their skills and potential has real economic as well as inherent social and moral value. It is about seeing ability rather than disability, not seeing people as undeserving or as victims, but being ambitious for people. It is about recognising people’s rights to equality, respect, participation and inclusion as well as building resourceful individuals and communities.”

These were the opening words of ESN Chief Executive John Halloran for the final roundtable of the 21st European Social Services Conference where panelists discussed the relevance of the European Commission’s social investment approach for social services across Europe. Mr Halloran also noted some commonalities between the ideas expressed in the Social Investment Package and local case studies from ESN’s recent work, both of which have placed emphasis on:

  • Seeing clients as ‘co-producers’ of services; by involving people in the assessment of their own needs and looking at shared solutions
  • Transforming services to be more based on prevention, rehabilitation and independent living in the community than on care based on residential institutions or hospitals
  • Greater integration among local actors in order to avoid duplication of tasks and share back-office functions, such as human resources or ICT
  • Greater use of electronic systems and welfare technology to manage case-load and monitor expenditure and income per client or per unit.

Prompted by the key messages and ideas discussed during the first two days of the conference, the panelists at the roundtable chaired by Hugh Frazer from the National University of Ireland Maynooth, Ireland, discussed this approach and how national policy makers and social service managers could draw upon these concepts to ensure the best results for service users and citizens.

Kathleen Lynch, Minister of State for Disability, Equality, Mental Health and Older people in Ireland, argued that it was essential to integrate services in order to be able to think across sectors to ensure the best solutions for service users. The Minister also talked about investment as a preventative approach for the care of older people, highlighting that there was a need to “plan social services for older people knowing that for most of us we are planning for our own care in the future.”

Guido Magrini, director for social integration policy, talked about balancing austerity and social investment in the Lazio region in Italy and emphasised that “when you invest in people you make an investment in the future.”

From the City of Hameenlinna in Finland, the Chair of the Social Services Directors Association, Jukka Lindberg, argued that in times of austerity social services need to be active by concentrating on the resources they do have rather than what is missing.

Alan Rosenbach, the Special Policy Lead at the Care Quality Commission in the UK (England), emphasised that social investment could be a way to build public confidence in public authorities and social services at a time when public trust in politicians and institutions is decreasing: “Our society will be measured by how we treat our vulnerable citizens, therefore investment in local leadership and user involvement is essential”

Robert Anderson, the Head of Living Conditions and Quality of Life at Eurofound echoed this view and argued for investing in the community, volunteers and service users. “Investment is not simply about money, but about paying attention to people." He highlighted the need to extract learning from the social investment approach, while keeping a critical eye to ensure that social investment is effective and efficient in action and not just another report.

“There needs to be a new balance between the economic and social dimensions of policy making, and the Social Investment Package is a tool for social services in Europe to make this a reality”, concluded Hugh Frazer.