EPSU’s debates public health and social services at EASPD’s 20th Anniversary Conference

(3 November 2016) Speaking as a panelist at EASPD’s 20th Anniversary Conference, which took place in Brussels on the 20th of October, EPSU’s Secretary General Jan Willem Goudriaan stated that: ‘Public services guaranteeing the general interest are essential to achieve and defend an inclusive society. For EPSU an inclusive society is built on the promotion of human and social rights for everybody living in our societies. The principles of non-discrimination, gender equality, equal opportunities and social and economic justice are key in this regard’.

EPSU supports the re-orientation of national policies as well as of programmes and measures financed by the European Social Fund (ESF) and the European Structural and Investment Fund (ESIF) towards the de-institutionalisation of care for elderly persons, people with disabilities and children and young people  who live in welfare institutions. According to Goudriaan, ‘such a shift towards community-based care implies changing demands to the better use of workers  qualifications, as well as acknowledging the professional roles workers take, while also supporting their cooperation with other care and health professionals.

Such changes will effect the form and place of service provision and also have a also strong impacts on the organisation of work, on working time arrangements and on the opportunities  to provide safe and healthy working conditions.  This would cover areas such as the availability of supportive equipment to prevent musculoskeletal disorders. The head of EPSU also noted that it is challenging or often impossible to enforce existing regulation and health and safety provisions in a home care and community-based care settings compared to than in residential homes, not least as labour inspectors as a rule have no access to private households and as they are in addition already understaffed for their regular work’.

EPSU believes that policy reforms programmes that promote a de-institutionalisation of care have to be designed and implemented hand in hand with measures to guarantee safe and effective staffing levels – that also allow for the participation in continued professional development – and adequate qualifications/skills/competences of the care workforce. For EPSU these two aspects need be given the same level of priority as improvements of the situation and rights of the service users.

For EPSU social dialogue and collective agreements are indispensable tools to achieve decent working conditions and quality jobs, including in social services. Social dialogue is an effective solution in developing adequate structures which allow both employers and employees to collectively discuss and negotiate how challenges related to the attractiveness of the sector can best be addressed. This includes questions such as low wages, often demanding working conditions – not least due to strenuous working patterns that are often leading to psycho-social risks and stress, including burnouts and sick leave –  as well as the lack of possibilities for professional and career development.

The Conference was opened  by European Commissioner Thyssen.  The Commissioner saw three  three major, related and simultaneous challenges:

  • A huge increase in demand – in 50 years, the number of Europeans aged over 80 needing long-term care is expected to triple;
  • A threat to the supply of long-term carers, from the shrinking workforce and from social changes making it less likely for families to provide the same level of informal care as they do today; and
  • The pressure on ensuring the attractiveness of the sector as well as the quality of care.

The Commission will use the European semester to promote accessibility and quality of care and to seek the implementation of the EU pillar of social rights currently under discussion. The Commissioner welcomed the initiative of the social services organisations “to help unlock the European Fund for Strategic Investments for supporting social services.”  The ESFI must work for socials services sector as well.

The speakers in the panel though pointed out that one of the main challenges at the moment are the austerity policies. Greek representatives gave various examples of how the cuts in funding make the situation very hard for many people with disabilities. Most panel speakers agreed that Europe needs a paradigm change putting people instead of profits centre stage.

For more information on the conference

  • Jan Willem Goudriaan, EPSU General Secretary speaking at EASPD Conference 20 October 2016