Since 2014 ESN has been running a Reference Group on the European Semester, the cycle of economic and social policy coordination between the European Commission and the Member States. This Group is a vehicle for dialogue between social services, responsible for implementing social policies at local level, and policy-makers at European level.

In 2018 the Group met on 28-29 June with the European Commission to discuss how European initiatives such as the Semester, EU funds and the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR) can address key social issues identified by social services across Europe.

Assessing the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights

The Group discussed the implementation of the EPSR through the Semester with Jeroen Jutte, Head of Unit for Employment and Social Aspects of the European Semester at the European Commission. The EPSR is a set of 20 non-binding principles conferring rights to European citizens. Over half of the principles relate directly to the work of social services.

A social scoreboard for benchmarking progress on the EPSR is a new addition to the European Commission’s analysis of the Member States. This scoreboard is used as a tool for measuring social issues within the Member States through the Semester. However the Group argued that it omits a number of indicators related to the EPSR principles which are important for social services. For example, support to homeless people and access to social housing as well as the inclusion of people with disabilities and the provision of long-term care services. This creates a risk that these issues will be overlooked by national governments when they come to act on the Commission’s policy analysis.

Making the argument for social investment

The European Commission representatives highlighted the need for data and evidence to illustrate the importance of social issues in the Semester, emphasising that social policies will receive more attention where there is an economic justification. This has been demonstrated in the past. For example Barak Obama pledged to provide early childhood education and care (ECEC) to all four-year olds in the USA on the basis that “$1 spent on ECEC saves more than $7 later on”.

However, the Group informed the Commission representatives of the challenge to provide this type of data. Investment in social services can improve the lives of vulnerable people in the long-term, but isolating and monetising this impact is a very complex task. Nevertheless, leaders in social services are exploring innovative methods for investing in people and communities with initiatives such as Social Impact Bonds.

Find out more by reviewing the key messages from the 2018 European Social Services Conference.

Recommendations for the next generation of EU Funds

The Group also discussed how EU funds are used by social services with Nikolay Gertchev, Economist and Evaluation Officer for Regional Urban Policy at the European Commission. The Group recommended simplifying administrative procedures and that more focus is placed on evaluating the impact of projects using EU funds. These messages come at a critical time as the next generation of EU funds are being agreed.

Further to this, Group members have already undertaken their own analysis of social conditions in their countries, with cross-country issues discussed at the meeting. Growing housing exclusion is one of the most prominent. The Group indicated that 10 out of the 24 countries represented see housing as the most urgent social issue, exemplified by increasing numbers of homeless people. For example in Ireland the number of recorded homeless families reached 1,739 in 2018 up from 1,239 in 2017.

ESN will publish the full analysis conducted by the Group in October in ESN’s 2018 report on the European Semester. It will be shared with the European Commission, thereby providing a valuable connection to social issues faced at local level and offering insights into policies that can contribute to the implementation of the principles included in the EPSR.