100 years is a milestone in any organisation and Diaconia is no different. This week I had the pleasure of joining Haroldsplass, one of our Norwegian members, based in Bergen, for a special conference on how they have been providing “heartwarming competence” in health and social care for 100 years. They invited me to talk about social exclusion in Europe and I drew on the recently published figures by Eurostat on the at risk of poverty rate in Europe. The figures were surprising. Someone is more at risk of poverty and social exclusion in Norway (16.1%) than in the Czech Republic (12.2%). We often think of poverty and social exclusion as something for certain parts of Europe, newer parts, but actually, it is not that simple. Access to services, employment opportunities, structural inequalities all contribute. As much as we need to search for causes, we need also need to find innovative approaches to reduce them and serve people who experience the risk of poverty and social exclusion. We also need to focus on their needs, not ours.  That is why I was so inspired by the Haroldsplass commitment to quality social and health care services – aiming to ensure the best possible service to all who cross their doors. I found this out in a more personal way on this trip. When arriving at my hotel the receptionist asked me why I was visiting Haroldsplass. He then went on to tell me he has used the service there in their hospital and it was in his opinion the best hospital in all of Bergen. He told me of the skill of the surgeon and the nursing staff  – all to be expected. But then he added something: “the difference at Haroldsplass was they asked me what I needed – they did not tell me what I could have – they asked me what I needed and then provided it”. Simple words but a huge difference in approach for this gentleman. He felt he was the centre of the service, that his needs mattered and that they were listened to and responded to. That was the marker of quality, of inclusion and of equality.

How often, when we work for social justice and provide social services, do we really ask the question “what do you need” or do we rather transfer our own ideas of need onto others? This week we have also had a visit from our new Finnish members Caritaslaiset who came to Brussels to share with the European Commission and the European Parliament what they need in order to be able to continue to carry out high-quality inclusion work with elderly people and persons with disabilities. Have their needs been listened too? We also held a meeting in the European Parliament to present what we need from the European Semester and related processes this year if we are to truly address poverty and social exclusion through the European Pillar of Social Rights – we need that to be listened to if we are going to have structural change.

What do you need? We all need something but I wonder if we are given the chance to answer that question often enough and for our answers to be listened too. What I saw in Norway this week was an organisation that is constantly listening to needs and building social and health care around it. I hope that will continue for another 100 years and I hope that that commitment will be better seen in our political life also, where our social and economic policies will be built on needs, not assumptions.

Have a good weekend,