Social Services of General Interest
Social Services of General Interest (SSGI) are services provided directly to a person in need of support, care, training, counselling, guidance and empowerment. They play a preventative and socially cohesive role. Examples include old people’s homes and home care, long-term care, child care services, support and care for persons with disabilities, services for homeless people and for migrants, refuguees or asylum seekers, vocational rehabitation as well as adult education.
These social, health and education services are provided by public authorities (as a rule at local and regional level), not-for-profit NGOs, like Social Services Europe members, and commercial providers. They are mainly financed by taxes and social security contributions.
SSGI are a key component of the European Social Model. They are also important automatic stabilisers in times of economic recession, as was illustrated during the COVID-19 pandemic and earlier crises. Although they have no direct or specific legal recognition in EU law, they are referenced by a series of official documents from the European Institutions.
Quality of Social Services
Quality of social and health services guarantee the implementation of fundamental rights for all, ensure the creation of comparable living conditions and opportunities, and contribute actively to enhancing the physical, mental, cultural and social capacities of individuals to participate fully in society.
New trends in Europe are directly impacting on the quality of the services provided, including: the deregulation of markets, the reduction of costs linked to service provision, the shortage of skilled workers, poor working conditions in the services sector, and the growing demand for social and health services due to social and demographic changes and the crisis.
Social Services Europe advocates for the quality, accessibility, affordability and availability of social and health services for all across Europe. This requires ensuring the organisation, funding and delivery of these services, particularly in times of crisis. The involvement of users and all relevant stakeholders in the design, delivery and evaluation of social policies and services is central for the provision of quality services.
Public Procurement of Social Services
Increased contracting out of services to the private sector brings up one of the pivotal issues in the field: whereas within Member States, governments have set up social markets where there is competition between providers for high quality and innovative services, at EU level, social services – defined as an economic activity – have to operate under EU rules on competition and internal market.
EU public procurement law sets out the rules under which these types of contracts must be tendered and awarded. The rules play an important role in ensuring the quality, accessibility and affordability of social services. Therefore, the current Commission proposals for the new Public Procurement Directive which recognise the “specific characteristics” of social services of general interest and apply a “specific regime” to the regular procurement procedures for social services, are one of the most important improvements as compared with the existing Directive.
Social Services Europe opposes the awarding of public services contracts to the “lowest cost” tender. Contracting authorities should aim for “best value” in procurement policy. This is achieved by basing the awarding on the broadly most advantageous combination of cost, quality and sustainability considerations.