Childcare centres

From the very first days of life, the real access to social services becomes an issue, starting with childcare services. In Charleroi, Marie and Thimothée find out about it very quickly for their little Léon: long waiting lists, registration before conception, stress…

Support to parents of young children in Europe can take different forms. By and large, these include parental leave, educational services, child care, financial support via family allowances and tax reimbursements.

Today, awareness of families' and children's multiple needs is growing. Greater attention is given to the need to encourage women's jobs and to create a balance between private life and professional life.

One step further

In 2012, the European Commission published a study on employment services in 20 countries, describing the major trends in Europe today, and underlining the role of the various players concerned.
Consult the full study here

Have a look, too, at the Commission Communication of February 2011 on early childhood education and care, "Education and care in early childhood: Providing all our children with the best start for the world of tomorrow". .

Other European Commission documents on its site.

A few umbrella organizations in civil society working on children policies:
- Eurochild
- La Confédération des organisations familiales de l'Union européenne (COFACE)

Alain Dubois

Sociologist, Centre d'expertise et de ressources pour l'enfance (CERE)/Belgium

Alain Dubois is a sociologist and expert for the Observatoire de l’Enfant de la Commission Communautaire francophone de Belgique (Observatory for Children of the French Community Commission of Belgium), and he teaches at ISFSC (Institut Supérieur de Formation Sociale et de Communication – Higher Institute for Social and Communication Training). He is also the Managing Director of the Centre d’expertise et de ressources pour l’enfance (CERE - Centre for expertise and resources for children). His areas of activity include assessing public action and supporting the development of services for children.

Among other things, with C. Gillet he participated in drafting the plan for day care centres for the Prime Minister of the Brussels-Capital Region, and a European Study on childcare facilities available outside school hours in disadvantaged areas. Further information on his work

"The role of the State is to have childcare centres take part in the life-long learning movement, and to ensure their quality for the well-being of children"

Contact Alain Dubois :
+32 (0)2.333.46.12

Source: European Commission, Study Childcare services, a comparative analysis of 30 European countrieseuropéens

Want to know more?
Public spending on childcare and early education in OECD countries, a comparative analysis of 30 European countries
OECD family data base

Sources: Eurostat – Population and Social Condition (2012)

Without aaccess to childcare, it is almost impossible for the parents to find a job… and parental unemployment increases the risk of poverty for children. Today, children are under greater risk of poverty than the rest of the population in 21 out of 25 Member States for which data are available


Cinzia, Gregorio and other young people have taken up the challenge of their lives as they try to gain a new hold on their futures in the "Il ponte" community in Civitavecchia, a volunteer centre that helps young people break their drug addiction. What is the role of the warm one-to-one solidarity of volunteering in today's economic and social crisis?

Volunteering is a reality in Europe today, and not just since 2011, the European Year of Volunteering. Social protection is often connected with this type of solidarity which is more visible, more intense and less institutional and which is generally the result of a citizen initiative.

The number of volunteers is growing, even in countries where the rate of volunteering is the lowest. This is clear from the most recent Commission report on the subject. Why is it so? It seems that today people are more aware of social and environmental problems, and there is also growing use of volunteers to carry out public service missions, plus greater participation of elderly persons.

One step further

The European Commission website lists a series of interesting initiatives, exchange programmes, and networks. For further information.

Consult the dossier on the "Toute l’Europe" portal on l’Année du volontariat - état des lieux (2010)

For youth, see the European youth portal.

Also visit the site of the European Volunteer Centre.

Vito Martiello

Coordinator of the Volunteering Service Centre/, Italy

"Volunteering is always a step ahead in providing solutions, but it is dangerous to think that, on its own, it can handle the services that the public sector no longer supplies."

Contacter Vito Martiello
+39 0532.20.56.88
The site of the Volunteering Service Centre in Ferrara – the Italian name is Agire sociale

Source : Eurobarometre n°73 – volume 2, November 2010, pp. 171 and following

Volunteering is an important activity in Europe. Nearly one person out of three declares that he/she exercises this kind of activity.

According to a Eurobarometer study, Europeans feel that the social sector is where volunteering is the most useful: "When asked to state in which field they consider volunteering plays an important role, the three main areas mentioned by Europeans were solidarity and humanitarian aid (34%), healthcare (24%) and the social inclusion of disadvantaged citizens (20%), jointly with protecting human rights (20%). For Europeans, therefore, solidarity and humanism are the main values underlying volunteering."

Access to healthcare

Rita is often on the front line and explains her patients how to access healthcare. She is a doctor and shares her time between her office and the University where she teaches. Health does not have a price, but it does have a cost, which is borne to a very large extent by the community. This enables citizens to think about getting treatment, rather than about paying the bill …

The widest possible access to healthcare -- we even use the word universal -- to healthcare is generally considered as one of the characteristics of the healthcare systems in the EU Member States. In fact, this is established in Article 35 of the Charter of Fundamental rights of the European Union.

Two concepts have contributed to the development of "universal" access to healthcare: the minimum threshold approach and the egalitarian approach. These approaches are sometimes combined in a complex way. The minimalist approach ensures that no citizen falls under a given level of subsistence, whereas the egalitarian approach focuses on ensuring equal access for all, whatever their status.

A step further

Here are two articles that go more into detail:
- Access to health care in the EU Member States
- Mapping European healthcare systems

A few NGOs active in this field
- The European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies has devoted many studies to the subject of accessibility of healthcare
- European Social Watch has drafted an article on access to healthcare in Europe
- Euro Healthnet
- European Public Health Alliance
- Health First Europe

Jozef Van Langendonck

Honorary Professor of the Faculty of Law at Leuven Catholic University/Leuven (KuLeuven), Belgium

"Health care in our society today constitutes one of the major components of State expenditures"

Jozef Van Langendonck studied law, philosophy and economics at KuLeuven. He has worked for many years as a researcher on the theme of social protection, at Belgian and international levels. He was the Director of the Institut du Droit social at KuLeuven, and Secretary General of the European Social Security Institute. He is now retired from university life, but his expertise is still sought by international institutions such as the International Labour Organization, the Council of Europe and the European Commission.

Bibliography of publications by Josef Van Langendonck

Contact Jozef Van Langendonck :

Source : European health report 2012 by the World Health Organization

Want to know more? Watch the video of the World Health Organisation on the key messages of the report

Sources : Eurostat – SILC

3.2% of Europeans felt that at least once during the year, they did not get the health care they considered necessary because of the time they had to wait, the cost or the distance.

Want to know more?
Social Europe - Current challenges and the way forward - Annual Report of the Social Protection Committee (2012)

Social housing

Squat or social housing? Gabrielle is not able to access housing through the private market and the waiting lists for social housing are miles long. So she has to find an alternative solution. The conditions of her current contract as a tenant are illegal and absurd. She could now be thrown out of her house just because she didn't do the dishes… A nightmare where social policies meet the private market?

Diversity is the key word in describing the social housing sector in Europe. This diversity corresponds to de facto situations, the concept of social housing itself, the suppliers, the beneficiaries as well as questions of funding.

Social housing policies vary from housing policies to social protection, and they include a large number of different instruments. The idea is not exclusively to provide housing, but also to use State intervention as tax or financial incentive for the purchase or development of real estate by the public authorities.

The definition used by the European Federation of social housing, which is also that of the European Commission, describes the main characteristics of social housing in Europe:
"the development, renting/selling and maintenance of dwellings at affordable prices as well as their allocation and management, which may also include the management of housing estates and neighbourhoods. Increasingly, management of social housing can encompass social aspects: for example, care services are involved in housing or rehousing programmes for specific groups or in debt-management for low-income households …"

A step further

A controversy has arisen in recent years on the application of competition rules to social housing in the Netherlands, further to a complaint lodged by the European Property Federation.
See the Europolicy article

The association Leefstand zonder zorgen, present in the film, provides aid to people like Gabrielle, who are living in precarious conditions.
See their videos and information on their activities here

In 2012, the European Commission published a study on social housing in 20 countries, describing the major trends in Europe, and underlining the role of the various players involved.
Consult the entire study here

Also see
- Cecodhas – Housing Europe
- IUT – International Union of Tenants

Darinka Czischke

Housing specialist/Technological University of Delft, Netherlands

"The Charter of Fundamental Rights recognizes the right to housing as a social right. It thus confers importance to social housing as a mission in the general interest"

Darinka Czischke, a urban sociologist, is a researcher and a consultant on the themes of urban planning and social housing. She currently works at the Technological University of Delft, in the Real Estate and Housing department of the Faculty of Architecture. She has carried out research projects and given her opinion to many international institutions such as the European Commission, the Council of Europe, the United National Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and the network Habitat for Humanity International.

In her work, she examines the links between social players, procedures, institutions and the building environment. Since 2005, she has been the co-organizer of the Working group 'Social Housing,, Institutions, Organization and Governance' in the European Network for Research on Housing; and she is an active expert for URBACT, a European programme of exchanges that promotes sustainable urban development.

Contact Darinka Czischke :
+32 2 513 51 48

Source : CECODHAS – Housing Europe Review 2012: The Nuts and Bolts of the European Housing System

In terms of social housing, the EU is a real patchwork; the amounts show social housing as a percentage of all housing available in each country.

Back to work

After having accompanied thousands of unemployed persons in their job hunts, Séverine and Greg are now unemployed themselves … what is the daily life of those whose objective is to help others find a job? At times, finding a job for others becomes a very stressful business.

With 26.1 million jobless persons in Europe and 23.7% youth unemployment in Europe, getting people to work has become a priority at every level. Actively seeking a job, and proving it, is often a condition for obtaining unemployment allowances.

Many different elements have influenced employment services in recent years in Europe. Changes in policies on the way to design these services, such as activation services, have seen the light. Relations between unemployment allowances and getting back to work have also changed. Today we see a gradual movement from so-called "passive" strategies to activation policies that determine conditions for the award of benefits. The expression "active inclusion" describes this movement in Europe.

In general, three elements are combined to promote inclusion of jobless persons on the labour market: an adequate replacement income by means of an allowance system, the development of the so-called inclusive labour market, and access to appropriate services (training, accompaniment, coaching…).

A step further

LaIn 2012, the European Commission published a study on employment services in 20 countries, describing the major trends in Europe today, and underlining the role of the various players concerned.
Consult the entire study here

In addition, the European Commission regularly analyzes the social and labour-market evolution throughout the EU, thus giving the Member States indications to guide their policies. There are key European instruments that are based on these analyses: the Joint Employment Report Europe 2020 Strategy, the European employment strategy and the Social protection and social inclusion strategy.

On this subject, see the most recent Annual report on the evolution of employment and the social situation in Europe 2012.

Also visit the sites of other institutions such as
- The European employment observatory
- The European Anti-poverty Network
- European Civil Society Platform on Lifelong Learning (EUCIS-LLL)

Jean-Claude Barbier

Honorary Research Director at the CNRS & Sociologist Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne/France

"One of the bases of the law of the European Union, which is an expression of the law of economic freedoms and the market, is that the normal solution is to promote competition".

A sociologist and university professor, Jean-Claude Barbier focuses his research on the sociology of public policies and social protection, as well as on the sociology of work. His themes for research deal with the transformation of national social protection systems, employment policies in Europe and the United States, European construction, community social policies, categories for analysing labour markets and social protection, the methodology and epistemology of international comparisons and public policies. He has notably published the La longue marche vers l’Europe sociale aux Presses Universitaires de France..

Consult the list of his many publications here

Contact Jean-Claude Barbier

Sources : European Commission, EU Employment and Social Situation Review -- 2013

Young people are not unaffected by unemployment: in Europe, nearly 5.7 million youth of working age are concerned.


Annelies, a blind mother of two children, works with great courage. Despite her disability, she has the right to a free and independent life. Today this is still possible, thanks to the solidarity which can take the form of allowances or very lively aids such as her dog.

Disability in all its forms affects one person out of six in the European Union. Approximately 80 million people do not have the possibility to fully participate in society because of environmental and behavioural obstacles.

The European Union and its Member States have powerful instruments to meet this challenge: the Treaties, the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

In this context, the EU has set up a common framework: the European Disability Strategy 2010-2020. The challenge related to persons with disabilities is particularly important in periods of crisis, and commitments in various fields (accessibility, participation, equality, employment, education, social protection …) have been made to improve the situation.

A step further

- Further information on the European Disability Policy on the European Commission website
- The European Disability Forum (EDF)
- The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
- Academic of European Disability Experts (ANED)
- The special disability dossier in the EU observer
- Social Firms Europe CEFEC
- Autism Europe
- European Association of Service Providers for Persons with Disabilities, (EASPD)
- European Blind Union (EBU)
- European Platform for Rehabilitation (EPR)
- Workability Europe
- INCLUSION EUROPE - The European Association of Societies of Persons with Intellectual Disability and their Families
- Mental Health Europe (MHE)

Peter Lambrechts

Coordinator of the European Network for Independent Living (ENIL) for Western Europe

"Our job is to ensure that people with disabilities can make their own life choices, and that they can fully participate in life in society".

Peter Lambrechts works for the Independent Living Association (Onafhankelijk Leven) in Leuven, Belgium where he monitors the policy dossiers on assistance to persons with disabilities (PAB) awarded by the Flemish agency for Persons with Disabilities. He is also active in coordinating the Independent Living Network for Western Europe.

Contact Peter Lambrechts +32.(0)

Sources: European Commission, Disability strategy 2010-2020 and the communication made on this subject

“Persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others”.

UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Want to know more?
Eurostat study: EU Labour Force Survey ad hoc module on employment of disabled people (LFS AHM), 2002

Social economy

Hélène has been working for more than 20 years in Liege in the social economy sector, and she likes it. She feels recognized as she participates in taking decisions for her company, and she exercises a profession that is meaningful to her. Here, no doubt the work is social, as it deals with re-integrating people in the employment circuit, but it is economic as well … in an alternative way. The objective is not to make profit, but to provide social added value.

The social economy for solidarity is often a forerunner or the avant-garde of our social protection, but it is not a "sector". People have the central place in the social economy, for example by giving special attention to the production process, the sustainability of products and/or services produced, finding jobs for targeted groups, and employee welfare.

The social economy, or the social and solidarity economy includes a large number of players such as cooperatives, mutual societies, associations, trade unions and foundations, which operate on the principle of 1 person = 1 vote. They are characterized by strong solidarity among members.

The social economy is present in a large number of activities. Participation of workers in the decision taking processes of the undertaking is another characteristic.

InIn Europe, there are more than 11 million jobs in the social economy sector with more than 160 million members and more than 2 million enterprises (10% of activity in Europe!).

Creating a legal environment favourable to their activities is under consideration in the European Union.

A step further

- Visit the European Commission website devoted to the social economy
- See the summary of the CIRIEC report done for the European Economic and Social Committee
- Social Economy Europe
- L’asbl Terre, presented in the film
- Social Platform
- European Network of Social Integration Enterprises
- Social Firms Europe CEFEC
- P’actes Européens
- Cooperatives Europe
- CECOP-CICOPA Europe – European Confederation of Workers' Co-operatives, Social Cooperatives and Participative Enterprises
- Networks of academics on social economy : CIRIECEMES

Jacques Defourny

Director of the Centre for Social Economy, ULG/Liege, Belgium

"The social economy is a sector that creates an enormous number of jobs. Over the last 10 years, for example, job creation in the associative sector and in the social economy has been four times greater than in the rest of the economy in Belgium".

A Professor at HEC – the Liege University Management School, Jacques Defourny has directed the Social Economy Centre at that university since 1992. His fields of research concern, among others, a comparative analysis of social entrepreneurship in Europe, the United States and in Eastern Asia, as well as the integration social economy, volunteering, relations between the associative sector and the public authorities.

Consult the page devoted to Jacques Defourny on the ULG website

Contact Jacques Defourny +32 (0)4.366.31.36

Source: European Commission –DG enterprise and industry

This represents the percentage of all economic activity in Europe. The social economy in Europe accounts for 11 million jobs and more than 160 million members in more than 2 million enterprises.


Hans is entitled to a pension after working for many years … but he continues to work to make ends meet. What challenges will the elderly have to meet in today's society? To what age must they work? And at what type of work?

Not a day goes by without hearing about "the inverted age pyramid", "the aging population", "raising the pension age". At European level, discussions pertain to two questions: financial sustainability and adequate pensions. How can this equation be solved?

Two distinct concepts often overlap in practice: "retirement age" which refers to the legal age at which a worker must leave the labour market, and "retirement collection age" which corresponds to the age at which a worker can legally begin to collect a retirement pension.

Budgetary pressure associated with the evolution of the age of the population has brought about reforms in many European countries, for both funding and conditions for awarding pensions (age, duration …).

A step further

- See the work done by the International Social Security Association on the subject, and trends at European level.
- The European Commission is particularly concerned with the retirement question.

All trends are also analyzed by the OECD

Also consult the sites:
- Age platform Europe
- European Federation of Older Persons (EURAG)

Pierre Pestieau

Professor of Economics, University of Liege, Belgium

"For the moment, everything is alright, but the future looks grim … the State, that is the main supplier of pensions in Europe, will inevitably have problems"

Professor Pestieau's favourite themes are an economic approach to pensions, the social insurance system, redistribution policies and fiscal competition. He won the Francqui award in 1989, and was a guest professor at the London School of Economics and many universities (Cornell, Montréal, Toulouse, Louvain…). He has also worked as a consultant for international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the OCDE and the European Commission.

Consult the profile and publications of Pierre Pestieau

Contact Pierre Pestieau
++32 4366 31 09

Source : European Commission, The 2012 Ageing Report: Underlying Assumptions and Projection Methodologies

Sources : EUROFOUND (2012), Income from work after retirement in the EU

The risk of poverty is a concept: Persons at risk of poverty are those living in a household with an available adult-equivalent income below the poverty threshold which is set at 60% of the national median adult-equivalent income (after social transfers).

Long-term care

Mr. and Mrs. Aalto are senior citizens today who want to spend their old age at home, as long as possible. Preparing meals, washing, managing health treatment, going for walks, maintaining social interaction -- must continue to be possible. Adapted home help, care and instruments are prerequisites and must be put in place to maintain autonomy for the elderly for a long time.

Great old age is an increasingly critical issue that affects us or will affect us all directly. Living under good conditions at home for as long as possible has become a major challenge for our societies.

Long-term care refers to a broad range of services that are needed to enable persons to exercise basic activities of daily life over a long period of time.

A step further

In 2012, the European Commission published a study on long-term care in more than 20 countries, describing the major trends in Europe today and underlining the roles of the various players.
Consult the entire report here

Also see the European project ANCIEN that analyzes future long-term care scenarios .

Also consult:
- The Age platform website
- European Federation of Older Persons (EURAG)
- European Federation of Parents and Carers at Home (FEFAF)

Harriet Finne-Soveri

Director of the Aging and Services Unit, National Institute of Health and Well-Being/Helsinki, Finland.

"In 20 years, the number of nurses will have dropped by 50% and the number of elderly persons needing care will have increased by 50%. In other words, we won't have the time to do things the way we have done them to date".

The Ageing and Services Unit of the National Institute of Health and Well-Being does research and develops and assesses services to the elderly, as well as access to services and their quality. Its staff participates in promoting the health and well-being of the elderly as well as prevention, while participating in national and international projects for research and development on services to the elderly.

Contact Harriet Finne-Soveri
+358 400 357 313

In Europe, we have on average 9 years in good health left after our 65th birthday.

Source and figures by Member State (2011): Eurostat

Eurostat states that the number of years in good health corresponds to the number of years that a person can expect to live in good condition. In 2011, at birth, life expectancy in good health was 62 for both men and women in one of the 27 countries of the European Union. At the age of 50, one can hope to live an additional 18 years in good condition, whereas at the age of 65, one can count on 9 more years in good health.

Social Europe

In the aftermath of the Second World War, social protection systems as we know them today were set up in Europe in order to organize national solidarity and improve the population's standard of living.

This impetus gave European citizens the benefit of high social protection by means of the various national schemes which differ in the way they function and are organized, but are similar as concerns their objective. In essence, this is what lies at the foundation of the European social model, one of the greatest sources of pride and the greatest assets of the European Union.

This social model must now meet many challenges such as the financial crisis, demographic ageing and globalization of the economy. How will the Union and its Member States manage to maintain their social identity in view of these constraints? In any case, the analysis grid is beginning to change, and people are beginning to envisage social expenditures as an investment, rather than a cost …

A step further

Recently, the Social investment package was published. It deals with a series of possible solutions proposed by the European Commission on social questions.

See on Social Europe:
- The Commission campaign on social Europe with practical data sheets
- The European social observatory
- The Social Europe Journal

Associations and institutions working on the theme of Social Europe
- Caritas Europa
- European Council for Non-Profit Organisations (CEDAG)
- European Federation for Diaconia, EURODIACONIA
- International Council on Social Welfare (ICSW)
- Red cross EU Office
- European Social Network
- European Anti-Poverty Network (EAPN)
- European Consumer Debt Network (ECDN)
- ATD Quart Monde - ATD Fourth World International Movement
- Dynamo International
- European Federation of National Organisations working with the Homeless (FEANTSA)
- European Social Action Network (ESAN)
- International federation of social workers (IFSW)
- The Combined European Bureau for Social Development (CEBSD)

Source : Eurostat

Sources : World Bank

Europe spends more for its social protection than all the rest of the world. As a result, Europe is seen as the "lifestyle superpower". This expression is used in comparison to the "military superpower", i.e. the United States of America, of which the military expenditure exceeds the total military expenditure of the rest of the world.