On 3rd June 2020 the European Commission hosted a helpdesk to instruct and advise social service providers on how to access the European Union's Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative (CRII and CRII+) to better face the crisis brought by the Covid-19 pandemic. The social care sector has been severely impacted by the spreading of Covid-19 across Europe, with providers finding themselves unable to provide their staff and users with protective equipment and to ensure the continuity of services. As a consequence groups who are already viewed as vulnerable such as persons with disabilities, homeless persons, persons at risk of poverty, children, older persons and persons experiencing domestic violence were put even more at risk. It is also foreseen that the aftermath of the pandemic will cause even more social disparity and exclusion. Social services are essential services, and as such they must be adequately supported by the European Union.
The CRII (into force since 1st April) and CRII+ (into force since 24th April) funds aim at increasing the scope of the EU funds that are addressed to the Member States, by "adding flexibility in management and reporting, and alleviating the administrative burdens". "Through the CRII, the Commission will relinquish [...] its obligation to request refunding of unspent pre-financing for European structural and investment funds currently held by Member States". The Commission has also revised a proposal for a Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027 to face the consequences of the pandemic at the health, social and economical level; such proposal will also be temporarily complemented with "Next Generation EU" to boost EU budget.
COVID-19 has posed a number of challenges to the provision of high quality support for those who need it. the webinar highlited two key reasons why social service providers are in need o immediate funding:
- The adaptation of their activities to comply with the safety measures requires a continuous provision of protective equipment (masks, disinfectant liquids...).
- Staff had to work overtime to make up for the shortage of workers.
Generally, social service providers also faced lower revenues from authorities.
Andriana Strukova, Deputy-Director General of DG Employment at the European Commission, expressed the Commission's commitment to working towards the development of community and home-based care services to enable everybody to live independently with adequate support; this dialogue between the EU and national level will continue in the near future.
In some instances, national and regional authorities act as intermediaries between the organisations that want to access EU funds and the EU itself, such as in Catalunya, Spain.
Although the webinar's goal was to answer questions from social service providers from around Europe, the limitations of the CRII and CRII+ funding programmes were also pinpointed: Silvia Stefani, an anthropologist at the University of Turin, highlighted that , although indispensable to face Covid-19, such programmes are inadequate for tackling long-term and person-centred issues, such as housing for homeless people. Therefore, social service providers can rely on these EU funding programmes for immediate solutions, but should not count on them for complex matters in the long run.