On Tuesday 19 October, the FEAD (The Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived) community annual conference took place. Our Policy Assistant, Magdalena Bordagorry, attended the event in person on behalf of Eurodiaconia and our role in the FEAD Advisory Group, where she had the opportunity to engage in discussions and deliver some final key messages. The conference was a great opportunity to reflect on the remarkable work that many organisations, including Eurodiaconia’s members, are doing on the ground with people living in poverty and social exclusion. It was also a good occasion to assess the impact of COVID-19 on the delivery of these services and the lessons learned from the crisis, and to examine the future of FEAD under the recently approved ESF+.

Particularly, there were some discussions around the opportunities that the ESF+ creates for better synergies and coherence among funds, promoting a stronger focus on social inclusion and accompanying measures, and creating a good environment for implementing integrated interventions. However, it was also stressed that there are still many questions on how FEAD will work under the ESF+ and it is still yet to be seen how these changes will be implemented at the member state level.

During the conference, we also had the chance to listen to one of our members, Kirkens Korshaer, presenting its project Kompasset, partially funded by FEAD. This project provides services for hard-to-reach and destitute EU mobile citizens, many of whom struggle to access low-threshold services due to marginalisation, mental health issues or substance abuse. During their presentation, they raised some concerns regarding the possible broadening of the focus of FEAD in Denmark – from homeless migrants to homeless people- under the next funding period. The broadening of the scope could be problematic as it potentially excludes those who are actually the most deprived in society, if they are not specifically mentioned.

Throughout the day, it was interesting to hear transversal calls for more and better collaboration and partnerships among all stakeholders at the local, national, and European levels to leverage the potential of the new ESF+ regulation. Likewise, participants stressed the need to maintain things that were already working well before, to address the challenges of digitalisation, to further develop holistic and person-centred projects, and to have stronger participatory approaches. Specifically, it is crucial to foster greater involvement of people experiencing poverty at every level and in every phase of a project -from the funding to the evaluation.

As part of our final messages, we emphasised that while FEAD has been very important to support our members’ work, to continue to successfully implement these projects, our members need sustainable funding that goes beyond EU funds. We must not forget that FEAD and now ESF+ should support and complement the national strategies and funding for tackling poverty and social exclusion. Therefore, we will continue to advocate for well-funded and strong social services, as they are key for delivering a social Europe and for the proper implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights.