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Economic Crisis in Europe: Challenge and Response of Social Work Profession

Stage II Project Report

In 2010 IFSW-EUROPE decided to launch the project about the impact of the financial crisis on social services and social work since the start of the crisis in 2007/08. In 2011 IFSW Europe voiced concern that some politicians and the popular media are fueling a blame culture of scapegoats minority and disadvantaged groups. People facing redundancy are encouraged to attribute this to economic migrants and asylum seekers. Rather than facing up to the pressing need to tackle inequality, all too often the focus is on the small number of people who abuse welfare benefit systems, with the result that hate crime is on the increase. We have pointed out to our partner organizations that shortterm savings measures, that deny vulnerable individuals support and protection at times of crisis, represent false economy.

The first Stage Report in 2012 stated that the consequences of austerity measures included increases in poverty, particularly child poverty; income disparity and inequality; increases in children being taken into state care and social problems such as drug and alcohol addiction; more homelessness; exploitation; disparities in health and wellbeing creating more health inequalities, mental illness and distress.

Stage II of the project included sending out a follow-up questionnaire in August 2013 and the outcomes were presented at a workshop in Lisbon on the 6th and 7th of December 2013. The questionnaire and workshop also looked at the challenges and responses of social work associations to the European economic crisis, the impact of the crisis on social workers and asked about the role of IFSW Europe and what it could do to support Associations.

Data was collected from the 12 countries that returned questionnaires and 12 countries attended the workshop.

FINDINGS
This Stage II research reinforced that the situation had worsened with the ongoing austerity measures imposed on national budgets particularly affecting welfare and social care budgets. People are seeking more support from social welfare and social work services. However, the support available is decreasing. Financial welfare support is decreasing (in terms of both the amount available and the length of time the support can be claimed); fewer services are available – both in terms of state services and those provided by NGOs. Often preventive services are cut which leads to more crisis situations. Many of those remaining services are levying charges or requiring financial contributions from service users. Financial support, which has been available to support the development of services in poorer countries, has been cut. The findings indicate that socio-economic indicators are still alarming in different corners of Europe.

Social workers specifically have been affected by cuts and decreases in services. For example, our dialogue identified that social workers have experienced significant cuts in pay, very significant rises in workload, deterioration in working conditions, an increase in stress and burnout and when workers leave they are not being replaced and periods of maternity leave and prolonged sickness absence are not being covered. Member associations of IFSW Europe have been engaged in a great variety of activities challenging austerity as a way of dealing with the economic crisis and identifying the impact on people’s well-being:

> 90% have done statements on social policy
> 80% have organized meetings with politicians and been involved in demonstrations
> Almost 80% of the associations also did support social work programs, but they mostly did not specify which kind and to what extent and how much they had been involved
> 70% gave support and expertise to their members to develop social programs
> 60% of the members reported, they have been asked for “know how” by government organizations, but most of them have not been asked to actively participate
> 50% have elaborated concepts for social programs
> 40% gave support to their member social workers and another 40% also to service users and affected groups
> 30% engaged in NGO projects for relief programs
> 20% have been asked to engage in national programs

However, it is significant that despite this wide range of activities in relation to social policy, governments do not (in the majority) use the expertise and experience of the social work profession to help with solutions to the problems. They mostly believe in austerity measures, budget-cuts and reducing services for people in order to tackle the pressure imposed by the rating agencies and the profit oriented lobbies of the international financial markets.