At the occasion of the seminar organised jointly by the Social Platform, the European Commission and the German Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth on 28-29 June, entitled “Social Services of General Interest in the European Union: Assessing their Specificities, Potential and Needs”, the European Anti Poverty Network (EAPN) wants to put the needs and expectations of people experiencing poverty and social exclusion at the centre of the debate.
The following points are, from EAPN point of view, some key components of quality in social services:
Respect of user’s dignity and potential: Social services should be delivered in a way which does not stigmatise people, does not insist only on their weaknesses but builds on their strengths, knowledge and experience, fosters their self esteem and helps them engage in a positive evolution. Participation should not be compulsive, but be a free choice aimed at developing the persons own capacities and empowerment.
Give people the support needed to plan their future: As much as possible, social services must offer stability, reliability, and predictability and give people the support needed to plan their future.
Consistency of services guaranteed at all levels: People experiencing poverty in some circumstances face contradictory demands and inconsistency between various social services they are in relation with. To provide a consistent person-based service, social services should be integrated in a comprehensive framework. Public authorities and other providers of social services should guarantee this consistency, especially through constant monitoring and coordination between services providers and users. Local authorities should play a key role in insuring the adequacy of the services provided to the specific needs at local level.
Social services should be key actors of observation, and lobbying: Social services should be in a position to observe the changing needs of people experiencing poverty and social exclusion, and make them known, as well as to assess the adequacy of policies planned or implemented and propose policy changes.
“To achieve these requirements, social services should be implemented in an effective and participative way. This includes the need for social services to be allowed sufficient means, to benefit at internal level from quality management, to be delivered by qualified and available staff, working under high quality conditions”, says EAPN. For the network, people implementing social services should be able to understand and adapt to the variety of personal needs and situations on a social or cultural point of view, and to engage in positive relationship with people. “Social services should therefore develop participation of people experiencing poverty and social exclusion as a pathway to solutions”, EAPN adds.
What the European level should do
According to EAPN, the White Paper recently launched by the Commission is “rather balanced”, and take into account some of the demands of the social NGOs. “But, in a political context obviously characterised by an interpretation of the Lisbon objectives giving the priority to competitivity, the political willingness to keep a balance between the different objectives of employment, competitiveness and social cohesion, is doubtful. Furthermore, the attention paid to social services should not prevent for assessing the possible negative effects of the proposed Directive regarding services in the internal market on the situation of people experiencing poverty and social exclusion”, says EAPN.
EAPN stresses that equal access for all in all places to high level quality social services must be a priority in implementing the European social model and that responsibilities of national public authorities to ensure adequate and accessible social services that are available to all, must be safeguarded. At the same time, adds EAPN, “the European Union can play a key role in supporting this sector, in facilitating assessment on the base of quality criteria and exchanges of best practices, in particular with regards to participation. Such an assessment should take into account the diverse levels of decentralisation in the Member States”.
Finally, regarding the legal framework applied to social services as part of services of general interest, EAPN calls for the involvement of organisations representing the interests of people experiencing poverty and social exclusion at national level as well as European level.