EASPD recently organised an event in the European Parliament to discuss investment in social services in view of the upcoming discussions on the future of Mr Jean-Claude Juncker’s Investment Plan for Europe. Particular emphasis was placed on how to ensure that the European Fund for Strategic Investment –the Plan’s key mechanism- can contribute significantly to social inclusion in Europe, in particular through investment in high-quality social services.
The European Commission recently announced their intention to double the budget and duration of the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI), aiming to mobilise over EUR 500 billion of private investment in the real economy in the next few years. After one year of implementation of the current EFSI structure, the European Investment Bank (EIB) claims that social infrastructure accounts for 4% of all EFSI expenditure. According to our research, this percentage primarily includes investment into hospitals and social housing projects, with little evidence of sufficient investment into social services. Obviously, we can only welcome investment into these two areas; yet there is also huge demand for investment into social services which are currently unmet.
The Social Services sector in Europe today employs over 10 million professionals and has created over 1.7 million new jobs since 2008. Simply put, together with the healthcare sector, it is the biggest job creating sector on the continent, with the number of jobs expected to grow significantly in the future due to an ageing population and evolving social roles in families.
The sector’s need for private investment into innovative infrastructure and human capital projects is also very important, varying from sums of €50,000 to several hundred million per annum depending on the size of the service provider. Access to private financing remains a problem for many organisations in part due to the (often wrong) preconception of the sector as more risky than others.
Yet, wasn’t the EFSI built to precisely facilitate investment into these so-called ‘high risk areas’? Given the sector’s contribution to social cohesion, inclusive growth and job creation, shouldn’t investment into social services be a priority for the European Union? The answer to these questions should clearly be yes, especially when one hears about the use of EFSI to build motorways in one of Germany’s richest regions. This logic was stressed by MEP Mr Georgi Pirinski arguing that public accountability for the EIB was essential given the severe needs for investment into social services and the fact that EFSI is operating with ressources provided by the EU budget.
At a time when the European project is under significant strain, the European Union must demonstrate its ability to make a difference for people. The EU Investment Plan is capable of doing so but only if it goes beyond business as usual and does more to support investment into sectors with high economic and social return. Social Services are the backbone of society, investment in the sector is essential to make Europe a healthy, empowering and safe place to live for all.
The current Commission proposal for extending EFSI falls short of creating an environment facilitating investment into social services. Policy-makers, please do more to unlock EFSI’s potential for investment and job creation in the social sector.