ESN at the 4th Congress of the Spanish Network of Social Policy

The 4th Congress of the Spanish Network of Social Policy (REPS) took place on 6-7 June at the University of Alcala de Henares in Madrid, exploring the theme ‘Social policies between crisis and post-crisis’. The Spanish Network of Social Policy is an association of professors, researchers and professionals working in social policies established under the framework of ESPAnet (European Network for the Analysis of Social Policy). The European Social Network (ESN) took part in the discussions on social policies and social expenditure, while making the case for community mental health.

The event aimed to explore the social impact of the crisis and debate possible solutions and alternatives from the point of view of social policy. The most important issues that emerged from discussions were the role of the European social model, the difficulties faced by southern European countries, and the challenges for Spain with regards to social cohesion, citizens’ integration and inter-regional solidarity.

Opening the Congress, Dr. Luis Moreno, Professor at CSIC (High Council for Scientific Research in Spain), reviewed the main features of the European social model ,which he identified as equality, fiscal progressiveness, redistribution and achievement. Dr. Moreno also compared the European social model to alternative models, such as what he called “Anglo-American commercial individualism” and “Asian neo-slavery” characterised by "unscrupulous competition, which brings with it social dumping and a race-to-the-bottom."

During the first plenary session, Dr Valeria Fargion (University of Firenze) and Ana Guillén (University of Oviedo) compared Italian and Spanish social expenditure before and during the crisis. Dr. Fargion reviewed Italy’s social expenditure in social protection, pensions, health, and children and families. Italy directs 50% of its social expenditure towards pensions. When one adds disability pensions, the percentage soars to 60%, which is considerably higher than the amount other Mediterranean countries spend. On the other hand, Italy devotes less than 6% to unemployment benefits, merely 5% to families and children (well below the EU average of 8% according to Eurostat data in 2010), and less than 0.5% to social exclusion with no national programme that covers this matter. In 2011, poverty and social exclusion affected 68% of the unemployed and 28% of families with three or more children.

Ana Guillén reviewed the Project CABISE, ‘Welfare Capitalism in Southern Europe: a comparative assessment’, which is being developed between 2013 and 2015. The project is using Eurostat data to compare the evolution of social expenditure per capita in Italy and Spain with that of the EU 15 countries in order to identify the changes that have taken place since the start of the crisis. Dr. Guillén explained that Italy and Spain share a similar structure for their welfare states. However, looking at the situation over the past 20 years, they have followed different paths and he argues that "the welfare state went through a process of continuous restructuring and dismantling in Italy, while in Spain attempts were first made to re-balance the welfare state (equality and dependency legislation) but dismantling later (roller-coaster)."

In the afternoon, several panel sessions took place simultaneously on employment, immigration, disability, gender, poverty and social exclusion, and workforce. ESN’s Senior Research and Policy Officer Alfonso Lara Montero spoke at the disability panel, where he presented the interconnections between mental illness and social exclusion and the case for investing in community mental health. He argued for investing in community services for people with mental health problems to facilitate their active and social inclusion, based on data and examples of local practice in the EU from ESN’s report Mental Health and Wellbeing in Europe: A person-centred community approach. “It has been found that contact with mental health services was associated with significantly lower employment rates. However, the evidence shows that helping people with mental ill-health obtain, stay in or return to work has a positive impact on their mental health and in the whole society, among other reasons, for the economic returns it can create”, said Montero at the meeting.