The Netherlands' EU Presidency 2016 and the European Social Network (ESN) both acknowledge the importance of fighting poverty. At ESN’s European Social Services Conference on 20-22 June in The Hague, poverty issues were addressed in light of recent poverty figures and public budgets. In 2014, 24.5 per cent of Europe’s population was affected by poverty. At the same time, the public sector continues to struggle with shrinking budgets. To reduce poverty, social services across Europe are looking to create local partnerships for social inclusion.

At ESN’s annual flagship event, participants talked about poverty and social exclusion as well as targeted social inclusion strategies from the local level. These discussions reflected different poverty issues. Household debt and homelessness were two selected examples. At the same time, the participants identified key strategies for achieving better social inclusion, such as an integrated service approach based on partnerships.

How to address poverty issues such as homelessness and household debt?

As two examples, household debt and homelessness provide insight into the different causes and symptoms of poverty.

On the topic of homelessness, the Federal Public Planning Service for Social Integration in Belgium presented its Housing First initiative. Three programme characteristics stand out:

  • Housing First is targeted towards the most vulnerable homeless people.
  • The programme provides homeless people with an independent apartment, thus avoiding temporary accommodation like night shelters or hostels.
  • Evidence points at effective outcomes among the target group, such as healthier behaviour (e.g. reduction of alcohol consumption) and increased wellbeing (e.g. higher sense of self-esteem).

Household debt was the subject of a panel discussion featuring presentations from the Employee Insurance Agency, Netherlands and the Public Centre for Social Welfare Antwerp, Belgium, and the Barcelona Provincial Council, Spain.

The Barcelona Provincial Council showcased the Housing Debt Mediation Service (SIDH), which is built on cooperation between the Province of Barcelona, local social services administrations, housing offices, lawyers’ associations, and the regional government of Catalonia. To ensure easy access for citizens in both urban and rural communities, SIDH led to the establishment of 34 access points by 2016. The access points are placed within local social services, local branches of the regional housing office, and in the regional office for consumer rights.

How can integrated approaches against poverty work?

During the discussions, it was felt that an integrated approach in social services should be strongly based on partnerships, be that between practitioners in multi-professional teams or between public and private organisations.

As an example of integrated multi-professional teams, the City of The Hague established outreach teams consisting of five different categories of professionals (work account manager, social case manager, participation consultant, dropout case manager, youth worker). All work closely together to address the needs of young people from disadvantaged urban neighbourhoods.

Public-private partnerships are another example of an integrated approach. The partnership between the private provider Edenred and the Municipality of Sorrento, Region of Campania, Italy was based on a public tender about the implementation of vouchers for the access to basic assistance. The private provider was also contracted to establish a performance management system to assess the efficiency of basic assistance.

Conclusions

One of the key conclusions across the different discussions at ESN’s conference was that poverty and social exclusion are multi-facetted phenomena. They have varied causes and symptoms. Also, they are persistent and impede Europe’s social development.

However, across different fields, evidence of the underlying root causes has improved. Reflecting on the implementation of local practices in different settings, this evidence helps public authorities to deliver more effectively on social objectives for Europe’s varied vulnerable groups. A key conclusion is that partnerships at all levels are one vital element to combat poverty.

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