John Halloran at roundtable series in Australia

ESN’s Chief Executive John Halloran was invited to open the IBM Cúram Research Institute roundtable series, held in Australia in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth in the week 25 February - 1 March. The events, designed as information and debate forums, brought together senior executives from federal and state human services agencies, non-government organisations, advocacy groups, academia, consulting organisations and industry experts. The focus of the discussions was on the impact of the National Disability Insurance Scheme on the social protection system in Australia and similar types of reforms from Europe and North America.

John Halloran spoke of a number of challenges and opportunities faced by social services in Europe in times of crisis.

“Social and economic conditions have been deteriorating across Europe since the beginning of the global financial crisis. New OECD social expenditure data shows that, on average across the OECD, public social spending-to-GDP ratios increased from around 19% in 2007 to 22% of GDP in 2009/11and estimates for 2012 suggest it has remained high since. In an economic downturn, spending-to-GDP ratios can rise for two reasons: because public spending goes up to address the greater need for social support, such as unemployment or housing benefit; and/or GDP grows slowly or declines. There has been a significant increase in real social spending on average across the OECD in recent years.

“This is hardly surprising given the very high unemployment rates now experienced in Europe, especially in states, such as Spain, Italy, Greece and Ireland. Of particular concern in much of Europe is the rapid rise in the NEET group – those aged 15-29 years not in employment, education or training. In some countries the NEET group represents over 50% of the youth cohort. This group has the potential to become a lost generation as they become further detached from the labour market as the crisis drags on.”

John Halloran emphasised that a change to the traditional social model is needed, if European policy makers are to overcome the current challenges, amongst which:

  • Balancing the effects of the financial and social crisis
  • Addressing welfare dependency and variable service outcomes
  • Ensuring choice, rights and participation
  • Addressing demographic change
  • Managing inadequate cost-benefit information related to outcomes achieved
  • On-going reliance on “institutionalised” models of care and support
  • Addressing the silo structures of social organisations

Relevant to the debate on the Australian National Disability Insurance Scheme was the issue of personal budgets, John argued. “Personal budgets have been part of the social service agenda in Europe for the past 20 years. A feature of the European experience is the empowering effect and the flexibility for co-production between individuals, their families and social organisations to enable community-level employment and other participation opportunities.”

The Social Investment Package (SIP) launched by the European Commission on the 20th February was also brought into discussion by John Halloran, as a potential way forward. The SIP has three integrated pillars:

  • Increase the sustainability and adequacy of social system through simplification and better targeting
  • Pursue activating and enabling policies through targeted, conditional and more effective support
  • Promote social investment throughout the life-cycle, emphasising early years support for children and preventive approaches in later life

“Moving forward requires a realignment of social expenditures towards the needs of the young as an investment in the future. This should be done while managing the burden of ageing and disability which is disproportionately taking funding away from today’s youth”, John Halloran concluded.