Social Policy Design: a new book in Spanish

Diseño de políticas sociales

The book contains a series of timely and necessary analyses and thoughts on social policy. Its author, Fernando Fantova, has extensive experience in the field of social welfare programmes, not just as an analyst and academic of social provision theory, but also, and for many years, as a front line proponent and instigator of actions and initiatives designed to improve people’s quality of life.

The approach adopted by the book to the issues dealt with is described by the author as “universal, comprehensive and community-based”. The aim is to merge the interests of the academic and research world (focused on social policy) with those of the political and technical sphere, i.e. the world in which those responsible for adopting and implementing social policy decisions live and work.

The observations made by this sociologist from Bizkaia are particularly useful because his suggestions for improvement, which are based on well-founded, empirical evidence, are much more than a mere abstract academic exercise, however necessary said exercises may be. The ideas and thoughts presented in this book are imbued with an overriding sense of applicability and a strong dose of effective pragmatism. For this very reason, the book will be of interest not just to university lecturers and social researchers, but also to professionals working in the field of social policy planning and implementation.

(Excerpt from the prologue, written by Luis Moreno. More information: here)

Fiscal, occupational and social welfare: trends and opportunities for reshaping welfare system in the Basque Country

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In a recent book (Diseño de políticas sociales, in press) I have worked in a theoretical framework for social policy, identifying some opportunities and proposals for reshaping welfare system in our context. I have found some of these opportunities and proposals in the field of new ways of structuring the financial flows from the citizens to the State (taxes and contributions) and from the State to the citizens (benefits). The structure of these economic flows must be coherent with occupational rules (about occupational flexibility, for instance), welfare services provision (health, education, social services, among others) and assumed relational perspective (type of relation between social policy and community networks).

Unlike most other autonomous regions in Spain, the Basque Country (each of one of its three provinces) establishes and collects its own taxes and then pays an agreed sum to the central government. The Autonomous Region of the Basque Country has a health service and education system, as well as an employment service and his own minimum income scheme. The Basque Country also has exclusive devolved power in the field of social services. The different political composition of different levels in this multilevel government scheme allows interesting comparisons.

It should be possible to compare different political and economical decisions and paths and we should be able to identify balances and unbalances between taxes and benefits, between benefits and services and between State and community, in order to propose new ways and tools for fiscal, occupational and social welfare. I think that there are, here and in other European countries, opportunities for innovating in social policy and that we can lead our Welfare state to a more universal, relational, person centered, efficient, sustainable and supported status. Evidence based policy and social innovation must work in order to help in making it possible.

Benefits against poverty in the Basque Country

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Currently, benefits are set at 88% above the minimum professional wage, although in 2012 they were cut by 7%, a reduction that will hopefully be recovered in the future once the economic situation improves. Depending on recipients’ housing requirements, the size of their family or other circumstances, the sum in question can be as high as 200% of the minimum wage. In this sense, the situation in the Basque Country is far superior to that of the majority of Spain’s other autonomous regions, and this has led to some criticism from certain sectors (employer organisations, for example) that claim they are too high and act as a disincentive for people to look for work. The coverage rate for all recipients (both direct recipients and users) per one thousand inhabitants is very high in the Basque Country (71) when in other regions it reaches figures as low as 2.89 in Extremadura or 3.17 in Murcia. In 2010, the Basque Country accounted for 42% of all expenditure in Spain related to these programmes, despite the fact that it had no more than 2.6% of the population estimated to be living in poverty.  Today, due to much greater cuts in other regions than the Basque Country, the data for the Basque Country are undoubtedly even more favourable, with data for 2012 indicating public expenditure on these programmes of over 432 million euros.

As regards the impact of these actions, we should highlight that, at least until the middle of 2012, the poverty rate remained similar to those recorded during earlier years characterised by a much higher level of economic growth in the region. Moreover, this rate is clearly lower than that recorded from 1986-1996 (the period prior to the economic crisis and recession). Largely thanks to its protection system, the situation in the Basque Country is clearly different from that of the rest of Spain, even when we take into account other areas of comparable economic development, such as Catalonia. Unlike this last region, which currently has comparatively high poverty rates within the European context, the Basque Country is at the other extreme, and is counted among those regions with the lowest risk of poverty.

Furthermore, and as stated earlier, the unemployment rate is not as serious in the Basque Country as it is in Spain as a whole. However, this was not the case in 1988, prior to the establishment of the income guarantee policy, when the Basque Country’s unemployment rate was “2.7% higher than the Spanish mean, 3.7% higher than in Catalonia and 6.7% higher than in Madrid”. Again this could indicate that the minimum guaranteed income policy has had some influence.

Currently, nearly 60,000 households receive benefits and income support. Nevertheless, the latest change to the law (2011) established stricter access criteria (as the result of a proposal by the Popular Party, accepted by the Socialist Party). The main difference is that while previously, recipients were only obliged to have been registered with a town council for one year before applying for benefits, they are now required to have been on the register for three years and to prove actual residence (although not legal residence).

Read the whole article here.

Social Policy Against Poverty and Political Autonomy in the Basque Country

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The Basque Country has used its devolved powers to develop a noticeably more robust and ambitious anti-poverty policy than the other autonomous regions in Spain, and indeed the central government itself. This policy has, in general terms, enjoyed a broad consensus among the region’s leading political parties, and has never been the subject of large-scale controversies or corrections. Even in moments of intense political tension caused by debates on national identity (and particularly in relation to the terrorist acts committed by ETA), the fight against poverty has remained a firm regional policy and a clear area of consensus.

Alongside other social and cultural policies and initiatives to foster economic and industrial expansion and research, development and innovation activities, the fight against poverty has become a hallmark of Basque society – a society that enjoys a high level of cohesion and which has a more competitive economic model than the majority of other Spanish autonomous regions. It is perhaps important to point out here that the Basque Country is characterised by firm family and community values and a strong sense of solidarity, with definite Christian roots (common to all parties to a certain extent), which may partly explain the emergence of certain other phenomena also, such as the large-scale cooperative movement located in Mondragón.

Whatever the case, we can see it is vital to improve coordination between the minimum income guarantee policy and other social policies (social services, pensions, employment, etc.), and it is necessary to recuperate and reinvent the role of the family and community networks in social protection and development at different scales. It is also very important to strengthen continuous (and accurate) assessment, participatory governance (with the Third Sector) and effective management (making efficient use of technology), so as to ensure that policies designed to fight against poverty avoid the risks of clientelism and paternalism, and are as flexible and stimulating as possible.

You can download full article here. If you are interested in the whole book, write to fernando@fantova.net. More information  here.

Health and Social Care and innovation: the way ahead

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The health and social care and innovation strategies emerge in the context of a remarkable increase in the number and types of social and health care needs in many countries of the world. By ‘social and health care needs’ we mean the convergence of health care and social care prevention, assistance or intervention needs of individuals in long-lasting, strong, close or connected ways in situations like ageing, disability, chronic disease or dependency.

Social and health care and innovation must be oriented toward individuals and their health, autonomy, coexistence and wellbeing. The social and health care approach assumes that response systems (social and health care services) should be flexible and versatile enough to focus on individuals all the time, adapting responses to needs rather than people to structures. This should be done while taking into account the fact that structures are essential and must be strengthened and developed, and that they are still asymmetrical (health care systems are currently much more developed than social services in European most countries).

We must, also, embrace the community model, understood as the model strengthening relational ties and citizen participation in response to people’s needs, and the promotion and protection of people’s health, integration, autonomy and wellbeing in their usual geographical and social environments (without getting out of our own house and neighborhood, if possible). That means to be committed to social and health care and innovation in disability, ageing, depending or chronic disease situations enhancing the responsibilities and roles of the people involved or affected by these situations, their families and informal networks.

Public institutions must promote social investment towards the synergy between technological innovation (knowledge-based innovation in standardised ways of doing things) and social innovation (improvements in social structure and dynamics with an impact on collective wellbeing). We need a strong political and public leadership in order to reinforce and reinvent our welfare state and social and health care and innovation strategy must be at the heart of this leadership.

Documents in Spanish in fantova.net/Social policies and issues