We’re past the halfway mark of the Europe 2020 strategy and far from reaching the targets. Today, and due to the austerity measures, around 5 million people more live in poverty than only five years ago.
In Caritas, in our local social services and parishes we observe, backed by statistical data, the increase of in-work-poverty, a clearly insufficient unemployment reduction in many countries and less and worse access to services: social and health services, education, housing, and culture. We need a new approach, a new paradigm. In Caritas we demonstrate that it is possible. Just two examples: Caritas Netherlands (Cordaid)'s project on cooperative enterprises in the Netherlands (COIN) and Caritas Vienna's integration project Magdas Hotel in Vienna.
COIN is a cooperative for part–time entrepreneurs. People start working part-time and together with others. The members focus on their strengths and talents, the cooperation assists them with things like administration, training, supplies and housing. The entrepreneurs save a part of their turnover and declare their expenses; their spending power improves. They establish new social networks useful for their business and personal relations. The members can stay on welfare whilst making a turnover. Part of their turnover is paid out to the local authority to repay their welfare benefits.
It is a sustainable business model as it empowers people and is beneficial for the municipalities and the community. It promotes social participation and independence and reduction in public costs.
The Magdas hotel is run by 20 refugees from 16 countries. Between them all, the staff can speak 36 languages. The hotel solves social and economic problems with entrepreneurial tools.
The three objectives of the project:
1) Creating job opportunities for people with a refugee background living in poverty with no or lower chances of getting a job.
2) Changing the ”image” of refugees – focusing on their skills and potentials rather on their problems.
3) Creating a positive role model how to integrate refugees in the Austrian society und business world.
These two and many more examples implemented by Caritas and other organisations show the way forward for economic sustainable policies.
Social investment is about: social protection, services and social economy. It is an undisputed element for a resilient society: social investment understood in its double dimension: (1) investment in social protection and social services and (2) investment in social economy and innovation. There should always be a safety net in the general social protection system that protects the most vulnerable.
Social investments are like an insurance: In the short run, you have a cost, but in the long run you are stronger and more resilient. Research shows evidence that efforts in social investments are clearly paying off. Not spending on social services and protection (like in health prevention) has a huge cost in the long-run.
The ILO initiative on Social Protection Floors is a useful instrument to achieve a comprehensive coverage. The 4 minimum guarantees are access to essential health care, a basic income security for children, for people in active age who are unable to earn a sufficient income and for retired people.
Caritas Europa calls on the public authorities not to focus merely on employment but to be aware of the importance of housing, education, healthcare services, social services and social protection. We ask the EU and Member States to improve access to financial opportunities (loans, microcredits, technical support etc) for social economy projects, including eased access for social entrepreneurs, in particular youth and those who are long-term unemployed and groups at particular risk, such as refugees. Also, a proper implementation of public procurement rules is very important, allowing local authorities to subcontract services to the social economy.
Jorge Nuño Mayer
Source: Caritas Europe
Photo: Getty/JOE KLAMAR