Barcelona 2010 key messages

Social services are under unprecedented pressure to respond to new needs arising from the economic crisis, whilst sustaining their efforts in relation to long-term challenges. Now more than ever, we as directors of social services and senior professionals, feel we must stand up for the values of social work and the principles of public service both within and beyond our own organisations.

Together with political leaders, we have to take the lead in finding the way through the difficult economic and social environment. We have to take difficult decisions about investment and priority-setting in the short-term and in the long-term. We have to build alliances with funders, providers and advocates from all sectors at local level. We have to manage public expectations about what benefits and services can do for them and what they are asked to do in return.

Drawing on the discussions on promoting care and inclusion in a difficult economic environment which took place at the 18th European Social Services Conference, we believe that we should:

  1. Remain clear about the values of social services and work towards a common understanding of the social problems people are facing across different services and professions.
  2. Keep in mind long-term challenges such as changing demography and increasing migration besides the immediate pressures of the economic crisis – and to think and plan ahead for what should be done when economic growth returns.
  3. Balance sensitively the needs of people who are new users of services (e.g. because of debt or unemployment) with those of people who were already using social services and receiving benefits before the crisis.
  4. Balance universal services for all with targeted approaches for the most vulnerable, supporting them to access universal services and providing specific support to help them manage or overcome the challenges they face.
  5. Seek clarity at political level about the goals and results expected from social services, but also urge respect for the competence and experience of professionals working at the front-line.
  6. Reassess and recognise the full range of financial, human (social professionals, carers, service users, families, communities) and infrastructural (new technologies, buildings) resources which social services can mobilise.
  7. See adaptation to the crisis as a change management process, in which service users, professionals and managers throughout the organisation and in partner organisations should be involved.
  8. Adapt in an intelligent way to rising demand and shrinking resources, having the courage to invest in approaches which are shown to be effective, and reform those which are not.
  9. Be transparent with the general public about (possible changes to) the criteria and assessment for receiving a service or benefit, and about what users may pay for the service according to their individual financial circumstances.
  10. Promote a better understanding at political level that social services are labour-intensive not capital-intensive, and that investment cannot therefore be a one-off but must be sustained over time in order to meet long-term challenges.