On 24th February 2021, the European Association of Service providers for Persons with Disabilities (EASPD) organized an online webinar to bring to light the financial situation of social service providers across Europe. A new Study on the short-term impact of COVID-19 on social services was also presented, which highlights the lack of financial resilience of many social service providers, as well as the loss of 1,000s of jobs in social care and support as a result of the crisis. A clear message arose from the webinar: the European Union must address the financial resilience of social services in their upcoming social policy agenda; on the next EU Disability Strategy and the Action Plan on the European Pillar of Social Rights, expected in March 2021.
Support services for persons with disabilities are crucial to their well-being and enjoyment of rights across Europe. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the structural weakness of the social services eco-system; largely due to underfunding and staff shortages. This is the main outcome of a Study launched this week by EASPD on the short-term impact of COVID-19 on Support Services.
Presenting the study on the short-term impact of COVID-19 on the social services sector, its author – Professor Sigrid Rang said that “the social support services sector needs support in their recovery, especially as this recovery will lay the foundation for how we are going to take care of the most vulnerable in our society in coming years. This entails funding, but in conjunction with it: a societal dialogue about the fundamental principles of service provision”.
Responding to this study, service providers from across Europe spoke about the financial situation of their activities highlighting that many are still recovering from the financial crisis of 2008 and the resulting austerity. Even a decade later, many disability services are still in survival mode, especially in the countries affected most by austerity or where funding falls short of the social needs. Staff shortages are generally increasing. Social innovation is considered as an add-on, rather than a key part of policy strategies. This clearly impacted the resilience of the support and care services they provide and their ability to withstand further shocks.
Speakers also highlighted that they did not yet receive any financial support for their sector from the significant EU funds put forward over the past year, arguing that more should be done to encourage Member States to use these European funds for build the resilience of the social services sector. Several also referred to the need for a level playing field as many not-for-profit service providers cannot benefit from national support measures that businesses can benefit from; thus feeling discriminated against.
For Luk Zelderloo, Secretary General EASPD, “this is the main reason why the COVID-19 pandemic hit our activities so hard. Social services are essential to millions, yet we often lack resilience and we lack the right eco-system that can enable us – and the people we support – to thrive. Europe’s social welfare systems are far from the finished article. We need more and better social investment, not less and worst”.
Thomas Bignal, Policy Manager EASPD added that “the European Commission has -on paper- an ambitious social recovery plan. BUT the EU’s response needs to build the resilience of social services sector in practice and this means dedicated actions to support Member States in building up the sector’s eco-system. The financial resilience of social services cannot be ignored in the months to come and that starts with the new European Disability Strategy expected next week. It needs to be more than just words, it needs to include targeted action in support of Disability Services”.
Following the webinar, EASPD will continue to work with the European institutions and others to ensure that the upcoming next European Disability Strategy and the Action Plan for the European Pillar of Social Rights sufficiently address the resilience of support services for persons with disabilities.
- The short-term impact of covid-19 on the social support services sector: Research Results- Sigrid Rand
- Financial Resilience of Support Services in Albania- Emanuela Zaimi
- Financial Resilience of Irish Disability Services- Dr. Joanne McCarthy
- Financial Resilience of Support Services in Portugal- Teresa M. Guimarães
- Financial Resilience of Support Services in Greece- George Retsos
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Note to editors
The European Association of Service providers for Persons with Disabilities is a non-profit European umbrella organisation, established in 1996, and currently representing over 17,000 social and support services for persons with disabilities. EASPD advocates for effective and high-quality disability-related services in the field of education, employment and individualised support, in line with the UN CRPD principles, which could bring benefits not only to persons with disabilities, but to society as a whole.