Speech by Ms Maria Larsson at the European Social Services Conference

Speech by Ms Maria Larsson at the European Social Services Conference - Quality and Performance in Social Services in Europe

Ladies and gentlemen,

Dear Participants,

I would like to thank the European Social Network for arranging this conference. The program is very interesting with its focus on issues which are highly relevant and urgent. In previous conferences and meetings we have made an important conclusion on social services. This conclusion is that we share the same challenges and that we can see the same opportunities.

Therefore, we have a lot to gain from the exchange of experiences and good practices when it comes to the improvement of quality and performance in social services in our Member States. I think that this conference will be a valuable platform for the exchange of interesting  thoughts and ideas in this field.

All over Europe, we live longer and healthier than ever before. More people are part of the labor market, with increased possibilities to take an active part in society. These are welfare achievements. But at the same time there are social problems in Europe. There is an increasing need for social services. This is of course a result of the current situation and we are now beginning to see the social consequences of the economic crisis. But it is also due to our ageing populations.

In the beginning of June, the EPSCO-council adopted important conclusions on social services. It emphasised that social services play a major role in ensuring social and economic cohesion in society. They do this by providing for higher levels of employment, social protection and social inclusion. A key issue when it comes to quality in social services is to focus on the needs of the individual. The individual should always be the starting point when we make our decisions on policies and measures on the national, regional and local levels. Putting the interest of the individual at the core of all policies in this field, is a central ambition for the Swedish government.

The individual should as far as possible be able to decide over the services that he or she is entitled to. Until now, social services in Sweden has to a large extent been provided by public authorities. In an effort to simultaneously suit the needs of all users, perhaps it has not really suited anybodys needs.

The Swedish Government is making an effort to increase the focus on the individual by increasing the individual's influence over the system. To meet this ambition, a new act on freedom of choice for users of social services is in place since the first of January this year. The main objective of this free-choice-system is that elderly persons shall be able to remain in charge of their own life. Of course this legislation also applies to other groups in need of social services, for example people with disabilities. The possibility to decline a service that you arent happy with - gives you a sense of security. It also gives the supplier an incentive to be more sensitive to the individuals needs and wishes. And it stimulates a greater diversity of the content of the services and it promotes quality improvements. The freedom of choice increases the possibility for each and everyone to find something that suits their particular needs and interests and their social and cultural background.

In order to make an informed choice of service provider, you will need accurate and reliable information on the different alternatives. According to this new act, the local authorities are responsible for providing relevant information to users so that they can make informed choices.

Not only users, but all inhabitants and tax payers, have a right to know about the outcome and quality of social services. In Sweden there is therefore currently a rapid development of national, open comparisons of quality and performance in social services. Open comparisons contributes to quality improvements and the implementation of new knowledge. To measure and compare quality and results stimulates better performance of the social services. Open comparisons highlights good and bad performance. Good examples are analyzed and others can draw their own conclusions from the results. No one wants to be a bad example, all want to be at the top of the list. The attention on good and bad performance stimulates providers and responsible authorities to make an extra effort.

However, the quality of the services that the individual receives must not only depend on that he or she has chosen the right provider. A very important factor that makes a free-choice-system good is a well functioning monitoring of the services and the care. With national legislation as a starting point, public authorities need to set a national framework of quality standards that all providers must meet. This is essential for the individual's confidence in the system.

In Sweden, the responsibility for the quality of the social services lies with the municipalities. The services are financed with taxes, regardless if the service is publicly or privately provided. It is the local or regional public authority that is responsible for checking that all the requirements are met. If this is not the case, the authority has to take the necessary measures to ensure that the requirements are met, or ultimately cancel the agreement. The overall responsibility for social services in Sweden rests with the State. An important tool for the state to monitor and govern the social services is supervision. The system for supervision in Sweden is currently undergoing a reform. The purpose is to make it stronger and more efficient. The Government has initiated a work that aims at clarifying quality criteria for a coherent and efficient supervision of social services.

Another area that is very important for the quality of social services is to strengthen the profession. More knowledge and research about social services can improve their possibilities to do a good job. National guidelines can be a way to strengthen the profession. Guidelines can help spreading knowledge about efficient methods and they can also support local implementation in the daily work. Guidelines makes it easier for providers to make use of the evidence there is, about methods and experiences which works well.

So, to sum up this part. Our focus is to strengthen the individuals ability to influence his or her daily life. To choose the service provider is one way of increasing ones influence, and thereby to get respect and dignity.

Now, I have given you a short overview of the developments in the field of social services in Sweden. I would like to move to activities on the EU-level. So let me take the opportunity to give you some information on the activities during the Swedish presidency.

The situation of the elderly in Europe have a prominent place in the programme for the trio presidency. The Czech presidency has held a conference on the rights of the elderly in May this year.

We will follow up these discussions with a conference on Healthy and Dignified Ageing in Stockholm in September. The aim with this conference is to promote the work to enhance dignity and quality of life for elderly persons. One important subject is the quality of life for persons with Alzheimers disease - and other dementia diseases. The French Presidency put this issue on the Agenda. Another important issue is how to promote healthy ageing. Not only because many wish to continue to work - but also because it enhances dignity. Our aim is to adopt Council Conclusions on healthy and dignified ageing. And to put the issue on Elderly Care more permanently on the EU agenda.

Another important event that will take place in Stockholm during the Swedish presidency, is the 8th European Round Table on Poverty and Social Exclusion. This conference will be arranged in October. The discussions at the conference will focus on social inclusion in times of recession - and new challenges that are relevant for the implementation of the Active Inclusion strategy. A fundamental feature of this strategy is policy coordination. Therefore we will discuss different aspects on how to integrate services from social security agencies. We will discuss employment and welfare services in order to meet the complex needs of people facing poverty and social exclusion. Hopefully - the outcomes of this conference will provide an important input to the European Year of combating poverty and social exclusion 2010 and to the Post Lisbon Strategy.

Another related topic concerns how to move towards an active social security policy that promote labor market inclusion. And how to avoid long-term or even permanent benefit dependency. These issues will be dealt with at a conference organized by the Minister for Social Security and the Minister of Employment.

Again, I would like to thank the European Social Network for arranging this conference. I strongly believe it will contribute to the discussion and development in our member states. I hope that we will take the discussion even further in some specific fields during the Swedish presidency.

Thank you.


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