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Open access

Flavia Martinelli, Anneli Anttonen and Margitta Mätzke

Publicly provided in-kind social services are a key component of the welfare state in most of Europe, albeit their development trajectories, coverage and legal status still vary considerably among countries. The way such services are provided and made available to people bears significantly on social and territorial cohesion, on the gender balance and, ultimately, on the wealth of any society. On the other hand, while much is discussed and written about social policy and welfare systems, social services are somewhat neglected. Although they have progressively gained a stronger foothold in national legislations and social policy agendas, their status remains weaker compared to health or education services. Moreover, because of the austerity measures brought about by the 2008 financial crisis, they have been the primary object of cuts and reorganisation. And yet, from a social capital and social investment perspective social services should earn much more attention. Cuts in the social service systems have, in fact, very severe consequences on older people and people with disabilities, as well as on households – women – with small children or living in poverty, i.e. on people whose labour market position is weak. The public provision of in-kind services, more than monetary transfers and benefits, represents a social investment that not only generates welfare, social inclusion and jobs, but also reduces future social risks. The theoretical debate on social policy and welfare states needs thus to be enriched by comparatively informed research on the restructuring of social services. This is also a field where national, regional and local variations are large and greater empirical evidence is needed.

Open access

Flavia Martinelli

The chapter provides an overview of the debates on social services, a key component of both the service sector and the welfare state, highlighting the different socioeconomic underpinnings of these activities and proposing a number of analytical tools. In the first section, social services are positioned within the contemporary discussion about the service economy, the welfare state, social and territorial cohesion, as well as the post-Keynesian restructuring process. The specificities and key social and economic implications of these activities are stressed. In the second section, the importance of a time- and space-sensitive approach to analysing changes and understanding the great variety of national and regional restructuring trajectories is emphasised, and the notions of welfare ‘regimes’ and ‘models’ are reviewed. In the third section, the main restructuring trends at work since the 1980s and the effects of the 2008 financial crisis are ‘unpacked’, highlighting their key features and socio-economic implications and identifying relevant analytical dimensions. The importance of the ‘vertical’ division of authority within the state and of the ‘horizontal’ division of responsibility among providers is discussed, stressing the need to distinguish among the main ‘functions’ involved in delivering public social services: regulation, funding, coordination, production.

Open access

José Luis Gómez-Barroso, Stefania Barillà and Ivan Harsløf

This chapter aims at assessing the EU’s emergent policy framework – the agendas, regulations and discourses – concerning social services within the larger field of social protection. At the turn of the millennium, it seemed that the conditions for a leap forward towards a more social union were in place, not only externally, by shifting its borders to the east, but also internally, by building up a more cohesive entity. In the latter respect, social services were given a prominent role. While it soon became clear that the EU would still be travelling essentially on economic rails, indeed social services are integral to the current strategy, as represented by the Social investment package and the Platform against poverty. In particular, a relevant part of the structural and investment funds to pursue social policy goals of promoting social services has been earmarked, marking a slight change in the mode of governance towards ‘harder’ law mechanisms. Yet beyond the very ambitious discourses and goals, an ambivalent stance and a number of structural tensions permeate the EU social policy framework and in particular the initiatives more specifically geared to social services. The very ambitious goals are not supported by actual financial means; a tension remains between the attempt to set up a European regulatory framework and national sovereignty in the social domain. Moreover, there seems to be a contradiction between competition policy applied to services and the right to welfare involved in social services. These unsolved tensions are likely to be the result of compromises in a geopolitical region accommodating different welfare state models, entailing different approaches, goals and interests.

Open access

Margitta Mätzke, Anneli Anttonen, Peter Brokking and Jana Javornik

There is great diversity in social service arrangements across countries. Some offer broadly accessible social services for their citizens, while in others social transfers and social services are fragmented and not available to everyone. Some care services are targeted or conditional, and therefore selective, while others are universally available. Institutional features such as these shape the extent and the ways in which citizens access care services and affect people’s well-being and way of life. They have a part in defining what role public policies play in societies and how states relate to their subjects. The design of social services is in that sense normatively consequential, and this chapter seeks to identify their overall character and conceptual underpinnings. It explores the core ambitions and policy goals underlying social service designs and identifies differences in normative commitments across policy fields and countries and over time. Ideal-typical policy conceptions are identified, which capture the goals and priorities informing the design of social service institutions. Two evaluative dimensions are then introduced, which map the diversity of public policy conceptions: priorities and core commitments and main orientation and targets. The framework is then put to use by analysing social service developments in three different policy fields and countries: care for older people in Finland, childcare in the UK, and housing services for asylum seekers in Sweden. These illustrations show that political rhetoric often strays far from institutional realities and underscore the need to investigate deeds, rather than words.

Open access

Ingo Bode

The chapter provides a general reading of recent European developments in social service provision with a focus on cross-country commonalities. The analysis sets out the main thread of the story that can be written about the evolving social service sector for a period covering the last two or three decades, with particular attention to governance issues. It reveals that there are inconsistencies in this story: on the one hand, social services have (more or less) become an institutionalised feature of European welfare states over the last decades, with a robust extension of service supply in mere quantitative terms, at least until the outbreak of the financial crisis in 2008; Europe has thus witnessed a success story. On the other hand, as this institutionalisation proves selective in various respects, this success story has always been, and continues to be, incomplete. The social service sector exhibits loopholes and limitations; and there are tragic moments in its recent history as major promises have not been kept and ‘organised’ social service provision has often become subject to what can be labelled ‘disorganisation’. Hence, while the success story is not history, its happy end is yet to come.

Open access

Stefania Sabatinelli and Michela Semprebon

Public responsibility for social policies in Europe has been extensively ‘re-scaled’ in the last decades, both upwards, from the national state towards the EU, and downwards, towards the local level. In this complex process, ambivalent traits and impacts are emerging: on the one side re-scaling may be associated with more participatory, place-specific and effective processes and programmes; on the other it may entail blame avoidance, opacity and reduction in accountability. Moreover, re-scaling processes are not uniform: they take different forms in different national contexts and – within each context – in different policy fields. This chapter tackles the ambivalences of the varying patterns of change in the vertical division of responsibility and their implications for the delivery of social services. It explores the room for manoeuvre available to local bodies for pursuing quality, efficiency and innovation; the emerging forms of local governance; and the spaces for citizens’ participation and empowerment. All these aspects ultimately affect territorial and social cohesion and equal opportunities for accessing welfare resources in each country. The analysis is based on case studies produced within the COST Action IS1102 SO.S. COHESION – Social services, welfare states and places, referring to three policy fields: early childhood education and care, long-term care, and the social inclusion of migrants and Roma. The chapter is organized in three sections: in the first, the theoretical debate on re-scaling processes is briefly recalled to frame the trajectories observed in European welfare systems; in the second, the possible repercussions of changes in the vertical division of responsibility are discussed, taking into consideration the case studies; in the third, some conclusions are drawn, highlighting critical policy issues.

Open access

Bettina Leibetseder, Anneli Anttonen, Einar Øverbye, Charles Pace and Signy Irene Vabo

Welfare pluralism, in its initial conceptualisation, sought to bring together the best welfare providers, including families and the community, while lowering expenditures. Ideally, a plurality of providers would ensure better quality, consumer choice, and universal but at the same time more individualized services. In this chapter, we raise questions about recent transformations in the welfare mix, which we call the ‘re-mix’ of social care, based on the empirical material shared within the COST Action IS1102, which points to a high degree of disarray. Compared to earlier decades that had witnessed a stable or growing level of state intervention, the current re-mixing among service providers is characterized by fragmentation and differentiation, while there is no attempt to address the question of how best to provide social care. In the end, we argue that: (1) the current organisation of care services is reinforcing inequalities between less and more affluent users; (2) the current division of responsibility in the provision, regulation and financing of care services is favouring for-profit and self-employed caregivers, without enabling collaboration and synergies among providers; (3) the current re-mixes are hindering both equality among service providers and universal provision.

Open access

Peter Raeymaeckers, Bettina Leibetseder, Robert Fluder, Erika Gubrium and Danielle Dierckx

In this chapter we focus on social assistance services, such as housing, childcare, counselling and other types of benefits, that are provided to people receiving a guaranteed subsistence income from the state, defined here as social assistance beneficiaries. These services are delivered by social workers in public agencies, often collaborating with other public and non-profit service providers at the local level. We specifically address how these social assistance services have been affected by the so-called ‘activation turn’ in social assistance. We present evidence on the horizontal division of labour between local government actors and a variety of service organisations (public, non-profit and private) and how this division of labour is affected by activation policies in four European cities: Graz in Austria, Antwerp in Belgium, Berne in Switzerland and Oslo in Norway. At the end of the chapter we reflect on the consequences of the activation turn in terms of increasing pressure on local actors. We hypothesise that the latter are increasingly ‘creaming the crop’ by creating a selection mechanism that favours the ‘best’ clients, those who are able to make the transition towards the labour market, over the ‘worst’ clients, those who are not able to find a job.

Open access

Blanca Deusdad, Jana Javornik, Rosa Mas Giralt and Raquel Marbán-Flores

This chapter explores changes in care policies and how these affect gendered opportunities in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. It focuses on Spain and the United Kingdom, two national case studies that have very different cultural and policy trajectories. Although legislation and measures supporting parental leave, child care services and care for older people were introduced in both countries in the 1990s and 2000s, austerity measures following the financial crisis of 2008 have disrupted those policy directions. Both countries lack a strategic and sustainable approach to gender equality in care. In Spain, family solidarity mechanisms have resumed, with forced re-familisation and co-habitation. In the United Kingdom, the national deficit reduction plan has cut local government budgets for care services to older people and children. These changes have interrupted the ‘policy transformative potential’ brought about by programmes and legislation supporting care services during the previous two decades. As a consequence, in both countries, women’s access to well-paid jobs and professional development remains a challenge, in the context of insufficient and superficial gender equality legislation.

Open access

Teppo Kröger and Angela Bagnato

Provisions and patterns of care for older people have recently undergone significant change all over Europe. This chapter maps the general directions of change in long-term care in different parts of Europe during the early twenty-first century, based on information reported in working papers produced by national teams in the course of the COST Action IS1102. The chapter covers 11 European countries, representing the Nordic countries (with Denmark, Finland, Iceland), Central/ Central-Eastern Europe (with the Czech Republic, Germany, Slovakia) and the Mediterranean region (Greece, Italy, Malta, Spain), plus the United Kingdom. Data-driven reading of the working papers helped identify five key dimensions of policy developments: (1) decentralized care–centralized care; (2) social care–health care; (3) outsourcing–in-house provision of care; (4) home-based care–institutional care; and (5) formal care–informal care. The chapter reports recent and ongoing change along each of these dimensions in different parts of Europe. It concludes that the main directions of change are: from the central state to the local level, from public provision to for-profit services, from institutional care to home care, and from formal care to informal family care. Altogether, these developments imply that governments in Europe seem in general to be trying to reduce their responsibilities for care of their older populations.