ESN looks at the Social Investment Package (SIP)

The Social Investment Package (SIP) has been discussed at ESN’s Board meeting in March and at the last meeting of ESN’s working group on ‘Leadership, Performance, Innovation’ (LPI), which is focused on the impact of and responses to the crisis.

Hugh Frazer is an expert on EU social inclusion policy and adjunct professor at the National University of Ireland. He discussed the SIP with ESN’s Board members, who expressed concern about how the social investment approach would move from words to action. According to Prof. Frazer, progress would depend not only on the Commission, but also on actors, like ESN, promoting its ideas and concept with decision-makers at all levels. Board members were also interested in how to square a call for investment with current budgetary constraints. According to Prof. Frazer, the SIP is about how to use existing resources more efficiently and effectively.

Bérengère Steppé from the European Commission presented the SIP to the LPI working group. She told the group that social services are a red thread through the SIP and that they have to be seen as an investment for the long-term rather than only a short-term cost; alongside this, the job creation potential of the sector was also highlighted.

Some key opportunities and threats emerged from these discussions with ESN members. Taking the opportunities first:

  • The SIP adds European legitimacy to arguments for investment in social services.
  • The SIP makes a good case for investing in people’s capacities rather than in buildings ‘one-size-fits-all’ services.

The threats to the adoption of a social investment approach include:

  • Difficulty in securing funding for (optional) preventive programmes when there is so much pressure on basic benefits and services.
  • Regional disparities in the level of development of social services (e.g. Italy, Slovakia) could hamper implementation.

Both the Board and the working group believed that the SIP could not only be used to argue for more efficiency and effectiveness in developed welfare states that are under pressure from the crisis. They also stressed the urgency of new social investment in countries, such as Greece, subject to the EU/IMF programmes and Italy where the North/South divide in welfare development is so dramatic. They also saw positively the emphasis on EU Structural Funds to develop community-based services and labour market integration opportunities.

ESN held preliminary discussions on active inclusion and long-term care at its LPI working group on:

  • On active inclusion, members discussed different approaches to one-stop-shops and the persistent divide between employment and social services. Read more
  • Members saw a real challenge in prioritising prevention when care needs are rising and budgets often falling; they also expressed doubts about shifting from informal to formal long-term care. Read more

ESN’s John Halloran is to be a plenary speaker at the major European conference on Social Investment in Leuven (Belgium) on 2-3 May. ESN member and Danish social director, Steinar Eggen Kristensen, will give the opening speech in a workshop on investment.