Social services: the way ahead


In this moment of crisis our social services are faced with specific and hazardous threats. The threat of being expected to return to their more paternalistic and palliative versions as increasing strain is placed on society. The threat of their being affected to a greater degree by tight budgets, as they are less structured and consolidated than other systems. And, in short, the threat of the promise of subjective rights remaining unfulfilled, the launch of the social services as the fourth pillar of welfare system being aborted…

We could talk for hours about these threats, which are quite often a reality in the here and now. However, we can turn this situation around, and we can find a window of opportunity, precisely in this crisis, to improve the leverage given to the social services, with coherence and determination. And precisely because our social services systems are less structured and less consolidated than other key pillars, and so there is a greater margin for manoeuvre when it comes to building them.

Within this context, the structuring and strengthening of the social services and, particularly, of the public social services systems, can be one of the strategic keys to configuring a welfare system that is able to respond to the new challenges and social risks. Firstly, of course, because the social services provide support that is particularly necessary, and developing and strengthening them is therefore a way of extending or completing the welfare system. But also, secondly, because when the social services (and the public social services system) are developed and built using innovative keys, as well as extending or completing the welfare system, they may also contribute to the welfare system as a whole becoming more relational, participative, friendly and synergic.

We still have time to build a social services sphere pervaded with a relational, participative, community-orientated and activating approach. Social services that are not geared to replacing family and community care or providing financial compensation to offset their limitations, but instead dedicated to complementing and reinforcing this family and community support. A system governed by the synergy between public responsibility, on the one hand, and individual, family and social responsibility, on the other. Social services that are innovative and able to invent new ways to respond to people’s needs. A flexible, efficient network, where the users’ financial and non-financial involvement in maintaining the services can be modulated, combining the perspectives of rights and obligations. An environment with a strong third sector, a solidarity economy, able to provide added value that is of special interest providing it is loyal to its identity. This is the way ahead.

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