The European Commission launched last week the first outlines of their 2022 programme, which is intended to contribute to supporting the recovery from Covid-19. Though it is still unclear as to what it will mean for public social policy and for social inclusion more specifically, there are some promising features that could deliver tangible impacts if they are well conceptualised and developed.

“The pandemic accelerated Europe’s digitalisation” says the EC in its work programme. Our recent publication ‘Transforming social services through digitalisation’ gathers a number of examples of the use of data to analyse and improve the delivery of social services, integrated care delivery and social service enhancements and innovations promoting independent living. Social services are ready to invest in digitalisation, if this means they can better support people using services. Indeed, the Covid-19 pandemic has further encouraged public social services to explore digitalisation and how it can benefit service improvement.

However, the Commission’s approach to digitalisation is mostly focused on cybersecurity and seems to forget a key aspect of digital transformation. The EU Recovery Fund, which has been designed to address the impact of the pandemic by promoting policy reforms in green and digital transformations, should ensure that nobody is left behind. This involves improving digital literacy amongst professionals and people using social services to secure that they can use the technology they need to deliver and use social services.

We share the Commission’s vision of ensuring that Europeans have access to quality jobs, fair working conditions, broad social protection, and better life balance. Therefore, we welcome the Commission’s proposal of a Recommendation on minimum income. However, not having a monitoring mechanism in place meant that previous European Recommendations, like active inclusion have lacked implementation. Likewise, previous Commission’s recommendations emphasised the need to have in place integrated policies, which combine minimum income with access to quality social services as a gateway towards social inclusion.

Having learnt the lessons of the Covid-19 crisis, the Commission will propose a European care strategy to address both carers and beneficiaries, from childcare to long-term care. The Commission expects that with the strategy they will be able to “set a policy reform framework for sustainable long-term care that ensures better and more affordable access to quality services for all.” ESN very much supports the proposal for a care strategy following a life-cycle approach, well along the lines of our recommendation for a ‘care guarantee for all’ that we suggested in our proposal for the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights.

Starting at an early age, childcare should include specific access for children in vulnerable situations like children with disabilities, migrants, or children in alternative care. These provisions will contribute to enhancing numbers of children in early childhood education and childcare. A European care strategy should support national policy and funding efforts to switch the institutional model of care towards a community-based one that supports people with long term needs to live independently in their homes and communities for as long as possible.

Finally, the care strategy should aid a review of the European social services quality framework so that it defines quality not just from a process point of view but also in terms of reablement or improving lives. Instead of just input-oriented quality goals such as numbers of beds available, output-oriented goals should be defined. Ensuring a good quality of life for people using services and carers should be a primary quality outcome of long-term care services. What constitutes a good life should be defined in dialogue with the users, carers and the other stakeholders involved.