An integrated and holistic approach towards social inclusion – the FEAD Thematic Seminar
Since the economic crisis of 2008, the number of people at risk of poverty and social exclusion in the EU has been on the rise. Women, children, and young people, as well as single-parent families, migrants and refugees, and people with disabilities, are among those most affected. Increasingly, larger numbers of people are also experiencing in-work poverty. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, inequalities have persisted and grown. People in vulnerable situations continue to be at high risk of being left behind, facing multiple health and social challenges from a disadvantaged position due to factors like indebtedness, unsafe housing, or limited support networks. In December 2020, 16 million people in the EU were out of work and youth unemployment was at 17.8%. Low-paid workers have been among the first to be laid off due to COVID-19, while millions of self-employed workers and small business are vulnerable to going bankrupt.
These difficult economic conditions have rendered effective implementation of the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD) even more important to help lift vulnerable people out of poverty. On 29-30 April 2021, the FEAD Thematic Seminar brought together relevant stakeholders to discuss how to enhance impact through integrated approaches that support the social inclusion of end recipients and maximise potential synergies with other initiatives and funds. As FEAD-implementing partners, representatives from several Red Cross Societies across Europe contributed their experiences and shared best practices.
Making FEAD-funded initiatives more efficient and sustainable in the long run implies adopting a holistic, integrated approach covering a wide range of activities. It is important not only to secure access to essential goods and services in an emergency, but also to enable longer-term solutions, such as helping people to improve their employment prospects or providing health-related assistance. Thus, synergies between FEAD and the new European Social Fund Plus (ESF+), – one of the EU´s main financial tools to strengthen the social dimension of the Union – should be promoted to address immediate needs and continued support.
For example, the Spanish Red Cross’ “people-centred care model” places the individual in the driving seat through the development of a consensual, personalised intervention plan. During the seminar, Oli Hervera Mené, Director of Social Interventions at the Spanish Red Cross, explained how the approach begins with a standardised online questionnaire which analyses several areas of a person’s life, such as health, family, or employment. The results help to identify potential vulnerabilities and their causes. A second questionnaire focussing on the person’s capacities to set priorities in terms of strengthening skills and boosting employability is then conducted. Following the questionnaires, a Spanish Red Cross team develops a range of activities for the individual, who is accompanied by a reference person. Through this holistic, individualised process, optimal solutions are offered based on the person’s skills and needs. In 2020 alone, over 215,000 FEAD-beneficiaries were assisted through this model.
Beyond prioritising assistance through employment-related measures, EU social policies must also address the needs of vulnerable people who are excluded from the world of work or facing in-work poverty. Often, refugees and migrants are especially exposed to the risk of being excluded from secure, long-term employment. In Ireland, a FEAD-funded initiative by the Irish Red Cross supports newly arrived refugees when moving into a new home in Ireland. To facilitate this transition, the Red Cross sources, procures, coordinates, and distributes essential material assistance. “Dignity Kits” and “Household Starter Kits” have been designed to address the needs of migrants as they first establish themselves in their new communities, such as food, or sleeping bags and shampoo.
The integration of FEAD into ESF+ represents both a challenge and an opportunity for organisations delivering food and material assistance or running social inclusion programmes for the most deprived. Strengthening cooperation among organisations implementing FEAD and building effective public-private partnerships was one of the main conclusions of this FEAD seminar on integrated approaches. Enhancing trust, promoting flexible partnerships, and most importantly, sharing common goals to lift people out of poverty in a dignified way, shall continue to be a priority in the coming years.
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