In September, we reflected on the role of faith-based social and health service providers in facing the root causes of extreme destitution. We asked Ms. Mia Nilson, our member Hela Människan’s Secretary General, to answer a couple of questions about their invaluable work with people on the margins.


Hela Människan provides a wide variety of services across Sweden, for instance, alcohol and drugs addiction treatment programs, homeless shelters, health care centres, food and clothing banks, labour market integration programmes or anti-trafficking programmes. All services are rooted at the local level. Is there a specific service and current work that you would like to highlight? Could you also please tell us a bit more about your project RIA?

I would like to highlight that next week our unit in Malmo (south of Sweden) will host our minister of gender equality Åsa Lindhagen. Ms. Lindhagen is responsible for combatting and preventing violence against women and, in Sweden, human trafficking is considered a form of violence against women. In spite only four years of work, our unit in Malmo has been known for its professionality and bravery in helping women victims of online prostitution and of trafficking at massage parlors. We are now starting to spread Malmo’s model throughout our whole organization, made of 65 units. Everyone in social care should be aware of the signs of human trafficking and know what to do when they recognize it.

Our open activity – called RIA Rådgivning I Alkoholfrågor (Advice on Alcohol Issues), is a concept that goes back more than 50 years. At first, these were open counselling offices and now they are – as we call it – living-rooms for anyone who needs have one. Everyone is welcome, as long as you don’t disturb others. At a RIA-unit, you can have a shower, get clean clothes, sometimes have your mailbox, get assistance in contacting authorities, have some good food, coffee, and fellowship, play a game of pole or sing along in one of our services on location always using the prayer of serenity as a base.


Household debt has continued to rise in Sweden from already high levels. Household debt grew by 5.5% in 2018, reaching about 88% of GDP and 186% of disposable income, which is amongst the highest in the EU.[1] How are your service users affected by that development and what is Hela Människan doing to support them?

This development in Sweden is referring to people in general living above their coverage, a non-sustainable lifestyle. We can tell it is having an impact because individuals from new groups in society visiting our units, such as poor retired people coming for lunch and eating together with drug-addicted. Hela Människan wants to be a bridge between people and the local and national authorities such as the National Enforcement Authority, those institutions have been offering a lot of support for those people and organisations who want to cooperate.


Anti-Slavery Day, on the 18th of October, provides an opportunity to raise awareness of human trafficking and modern slavery, and encourage government, local authorities, companies, charities, and individuals to do what they can to address the problem.[2] What are your anti-trafficking programmes focusing on and which measures should be taken to better fight this problem at European level?

Hela Människan in Malmö runs Noomi, a project for people who have been exploited for sexual purposes. Noomi consists of sheltered housing, advocacy actions, and dissemination of information. We offer support to individuals but also work to improve support for vulnerable people in the long term. We do this in close cooperation with local authorities and partner NGOs. At our shelters we welcome women and children in need of protection and material and moral support. We give women support in different forms and work to ensure that they feel safe and give then the opportunity to make decisions about their future in a peaceful environment. Support is also offered to people who do not live in our shelters. Our goal is to reverse the spiral of exploitation and helplessness many women find themselves in by giving them the tools to believe in themselves and change their living conditions.

In regard to the Measures needed at European level, we think that:

– A better and more sustainable victim-centered approach is needed, especially taking into account the reflection and recovery period for victims of trafficking.

– It is essential to harmonise the sex-work legislation inspired by the Nordic model on the criminalisation of purchase of sexual services.

– More active law enforcement is essential, including the introduction of trained and specialised human trafficking police, prosecutors and judges.

– Stronger protection is needed for children of trafficked women; they should be given a victim-status according to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as the Lanzarote Convention.


 What is Hela Människan doing to support the access to employment of the most vulnerable people in society? Do you have a specific (and perhaps innovative) project that you would like to present/talk about?

In many of Hela Människan’s units, we offer programmes in cooperation with the Swedish Public Employment Service. Most of the units have also cafés and/or Second-Hand stores. Some of them mend bicycles or restore furniture. In those centres, hundreds of people get the opportunity to – slowly but surely – get back to employability. Sometimes people are so broken, that they can’t even cope with our programmes. Then we take on the challenge to welcome them in our community and fellowship. They are asked to help out and given very small tasks and we expect them to be on time a couple of times per week. After a certain period of time (months) some of those individuals are ready to get into one of the programmes. We do have success-stories – they are not as many as one would wish, but these people were worth all effort (and even the individuals who didn’t reach their goals).


Question 5: How do you ensure/contribute at Hela Människan that the principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights – promising to deliver new and more effective rights for EU citizens – are implemented? What are the challenges? 

Hela Människan especially contributes to the implementation of the following principles:

Principle 4. Active support to employment

Everyone has the right to timely and tailor-made assistance to improve employment or self-employment prospects. This includes the right to receive support for job search, training and re-qualification. Everyone has the right to transfer social protection and training entitlements during professional transitions.

Young people have the right to continued education, apprenticeship, traineeship or a job offer of good standing within 4 months of becoming unemployed or leaving education.

People unemployed have the right to personalised, continuous and consistent support. The long-term unemployed have the right to an in-depth individual assessment at the latest at 18 months of unemployment.

Principle 13. Unemployment benefits

The unemployed have the right to adequate activation support from public employment services to (re)integrate in the labour market and adequate unemployment benefits of reasonable duration, in line with their contributions and national eligibility rules. Such benefits shall not constitute a disincentive for a quick return to employment.

Principle 14. Minimum income

Everyone lacking sufficient resources has the right to adequate minimum income benefits ensuring a life in dignity at all stages of life, and effective access to enabling goods and services. For those who can work, minimum income benefits should be combined with incentives to (re)integrate into the labour market.

Principle 15. Old age income and pensions

Workers and the self-employed in retirement have the right to a pension commensurate to their contributions and ensuring an adequate income. Women and men shall have equal opportunities to acquire pension rights.

Everyone in old age has the right to resources that ensure living in dignity.

Principle 19. Housing and assistance for the homeless

  1. Access to social housing or housing assistance of good quality shall be provided for those in need.
  2. Vulnerable people have the right to appropriate assistance and protection against forced eviction.
  3. Adequate shelter and services shall be provided to the homeless in order to promote their social inclusion.

Principle 20. Access to essential services

Everyone has the right to access essential services of good quality, including water, sanitation, energy, transport, financial services and digital communications. Support for access to such services shall be available for those in need.


To know more about our member Hela Människan’s projects in Sweden, please check their website.