Social services are a fundamental part of social protection systems across the EU and play a key role in improving people’s lives. They have been defined by the European Commission (EC) as the cornerstone of our social welfare systems, key to ensure people’s social inclusion. Social services are one of the most heterogeneous strands of social protection systems, hence a thorough understanding of social services in their different facets is crucial. These facets include aspects such as the regulatory framework governing their management, financing and provision, the different types of providers involved in their delivery and the scope and effectiveness of the tools aimed at defining, measuring, and assessing the quality of social services and their impact. Social services are also a lever for delivering on the political commitment of the EU to promote social inclusion, employment, and cohesion. Therefore, social services cut across EU policy strategies and initiatives to promote sustainable employment and inclusive growth, especially in the wake of the impact of the COVID- 19 pandemic.

It is recognised that the organization, delivery and funding of social services is a national, regional or local government competence. Nonetheless, Member States are required to comply with EU law when a service is an economic activity – which happens in most circumstances. The interplay among the different levels (EU, national, regional and local) leads to complex legal, regulatory and funding frameworks across and within countries.

These joint proposals of Eurodiaconia and the European Social Network (ESN) have been drafted in light of the recent report that the High-Level Expert Group on the Future of the Welfare State published at the request of the European Commission. Social Services are an essential part of the future of the welfare state in Europe. ESN and Eurodiaconia bring together over 230 public authorities responsible for social services and non-for-profit providers of social services across Europe and we therefore wish to combine our knowledge and experience to ensure a positive ecosystem for the social services that are needed today and in the future. Therefore, in light of the High-Level Group report, we have worked together to develop these common proposals. Our proposals are presented as recommendations for the European Commission and for national governments.

It is more important than ever to ensure that social services are a priority investment in Europe. Europe is currently facing several challenges – an ageing population, Russia’s war on Ukraine, and rising energy costs highlight the need for more and diverse solutions in the social services sector. The COVID-19 pandemic brought sharp visibility to the challenges the sector had been facing, including under-investment in the sector, workforce shortages, questions around the procurement of services and the sustainability of current financing models.

These joint proposals address the main trends, challenges, and opportunities in social services from three main angles:

  • implementation of EU legal and policy frameworks;
  • financing;
  • and challenges intrinsic to the sector, such as workforce related matters, digitalisation related trends and the growing complexity and evolution of the needs of people using social services.

Read the full proposal here.