ESN Recession Paper

ESN is pleased to present a working paper ‘Changing priorities: managing social services in times of crisis’. This paper presents evidence from ESN members and other sources about the impact of the economic downturn on social services, which is the second biggest expenditure area (after education) for local and regional government, and is responsible for supporting some of the most vulnerable people in society. The paper came about as a result of the ESN Recession Workshop held in Brighton, in December last year, bringing together people who manage front-line social services.

Key figures*:

  • €378.1 billion: the value of social protection spending by local and regional government
  • 27.5%: local government’s share of total public sector expenditure
  • 62.4%: local government’s share of public sector capital investment
  • +6%: per annum growth (2000 to 2008) in local and regional public expenditure in the EU12 (new Member States since 2004)
  • +2.6%: per annum growth (2000 to 2008) in local and regional public expenditure for the whole EU
  • -4%: European Commission’s estimated GDP growth in 2009 for the EU.

*For sources, see the paper.

Local and regional government had experienced high growth since 2000 due to economic prosperity, decentralisation and European funding (in Central and Eastern Europe). Municipalities, counties and regions plan, commission or provide vital public services: health, schools, police, benefits and social care. They do so in cooperation with many non-profit and for-profit service providers. Like the rest of the public sector, these services have had to adjust to the recent financial crisis.

It is easy to suppose that social services in particular are caught between rising demand for benefits and support services and falling revenue from taxation, but this paper reveals a more nuanced picture.

Local and regional authorities around Europe are re-assessing their spending priorities both within the social area and across different areas. It is a real challenge for social directors and political leaders to balance the legitimate interests and concerns of local people: businesses and tax-payers who do not want to see taxes rise; vulnerable service users, who want care and support; employees, worried for the future of their jobs.