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As people across the European Union (EU) prepare to cast their votes for the next European Parliament (EP) on 6-9 June, what are the European political parties’ views about social Europe? What’s in store for social services?  The European Social Network (ESN) has scanned political parties pledges to see if they fit our members’ key priorities.

Ensuring adequate funding for social services

In light of additional strain put on social services during recent crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the increasing cost of living, and incoming refugees due to the war in Ukraine, ESN members call on future MEPs to prioritise investment in social services. 

However, investment in social services is not a priority for European political parties. Yet, the Greens propose to invest in childcare services and long-term care. The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) proposes to provide municipalities with more direct access to EU programmes, while the party of the European Left proposes a European Fund for public services, though it is unclear how it would include social services.

ESN calls on future MEPs to use the information we gather through the Social Services Index to identify gaps and propose areas for public investment in the sector. 

Revamping the European Social Services Quality Framework

Ensuring quality in social services is a central issue for ESN members. With access to quality social services enshrined in the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR), the EU should take action to ensure this right is fulfilled. 

EU party manifestos do not explicitly request EU action on improving quality in social services, but quality care and services are mentioned in most manifestos. The European People’s Party (EPP) for instance, has a manifesto commitment to high-quality public and social services. The Greens meanwhile have committed to fund quality public services and access to high-quality care for all children. The party of the European Left is calling for universal and equal access to services such as healthcare, childcare, and long-term care. 

The new European Parliament should put these claims into concrete action. We suggest an EU initiative on quality in social services that has a revamp of the European Voluntary Social Services Quality Framework at its core. ESN is currently drawing up a proposal for a framework, which is up-to-date with current quality assurance practice and would provide concrete standards for social services. 

Launching a European Social Services Workforce Strategy

Attracting and retaining the right workforce is a central issue for social services that should be addressed at EU level. In its manifesto, the EPP commits to fostering good working conditions, a skilled workforce, and an efficient, effective, and accountable public administration. It does however not clarify if this refers also to public social services. The Greens meanwhile are calling for a Green, Social and Care Deal improving working conditions for care workers. 

The next EP must take social services workforce needs into account. It should initiate a European Social Services Workforce Strategy geared towards improved recruitment, retention and upskilling of social services professionals. This would enable them to respond to growing social needs and changing skills requirements for practitioners.

Calling for a European Community Care Initiative

Transitioning towards community-based social care and support is the fourth key priority for ESN members.

According to their manifestos, EU parties see the need to tackle issues in care and support. However, they only look at certain types of care rather than taking a broad perspective. For example, EPP envisages strengthening the European Care Strategy and implementing solutions for affordable long-term care for older people and other vulnerable individuals. The Party of European Socialists (PES) is calling for a European Guarantee for older people to ensure social inclusion and participation. They also want full implementation of the European Child Guarantee, which in many EU countries includes plans to build community-based child support. The Greens promote a Care deal that secures access to deinstitutionalised care for disabled and older people.

The future EP should look at care and support more broadly, as the transition towards community-based care is needed in all types of social services from child protection to long-term care. Therefore, we propose the future EP initiates a European Community Care Initiative which, among other things, would ensure that EU funds are used for building community-based care in all social services.

Discussing social services needs with the new European Parliament 

At ESN we are committed to collaborating with the EP to formulate social policies that strengthen social services and their capacity to support people in need. We call on EU parties to consult with social services on new initiatives for the sector. A central step will be ESN’s roundtable this autumn, where we will present our priorities to the elected members of the European Parliament.