Health and social care cuts reveal 'crisis of values'
by Aisling De Vos-van Vliet
Blind austerity measures cutting social and health services are short-sighted and self-defeating, and represent a crisis of European values that has been revealed by the financial crash, according to network of Christian organisations
With national debt increasing and budgets getting tighter, the temptation to cut financial resources for social and healthcare services is strong – but to do so would be short-sighted and self-defeating. Blind austerity measures in our welfare states are jeopardising the situation of Europe's most precious resources: its people.
Studies over three years on the impact of the crisis on Christian-based organisations that are active in social work have shown that demand for social services is continuously growing. Meanwhile supply is declining due to austerity measures in nearly all European countries surveyed. Debt relief, emergency financial support and employment advice are particularly under pressure as social service providers see their own resources diminish.
Some of these service providers also indicate a broadening of the groups of people that they support. Organisations that care for people sleeping rough see more older people, students, children, women and families in need of emergency shelter. More individuals as well as families are struggling to get by on their own means.
Social services are an essential element of a healthy and functioning society, because they enable people to fully participate in it. Cutting social services for people will only force them into a deeper crisis that can easily lead to a vicious circle of long-term social exclusion, bearing a human cost in terms of lost potential and well-being. This in turn negatively impacts the social cohesion of wider society.
There is a growing danger that social risks are seen as individual risks. Structural problems that are outcomes of the financial and economic crisis are put on the shoulders of individuals leaving the responsibility with them. Diminishing social protection and individualising social risks will also put values of solidarity, democracy and equality at risk. People feel increasingly excluded from mainstream political parties and decision-making processes which have not responded to their needs and gradually turn toward more extremist parties or decide not to participate politically at all.
Taxpayers will no longer see the benefit of supporting a single parent household or paying a pension of an older person without savings, as it will be seen as 'their problem and their responsibility'. However, a more equal society is a safer society with a higher sense of wellbeing for all, something that is often forgotten. Therefore, it is worth remembering the collective benefit of empowering all people to participate in and contribute to society, seeing social services and social protection systems as an investment rather than a financial burden to society.
An interesting question would be: how did we get so far? Why did the bank crisis develop the way it did and have such an effect? We have heard the words 'financial and economic crisis' many times by now, but maybe the real crisis lies in a crisis of values, endangering our social rights as community and as individuals.
Instead of solely focussing on bank bail-outs, economic growth at all costs and austerity without consideration for the consequences, a reassessment of our values and attitudes to our economy and society and developing policies and actions that ensure sustainable and just models of economic development and social protection would be a better solution.
Aisling De Vos-van Vliet is communications and administration officer at Eurodiaconia, a community of Christian organisations and diaconal actors in Europe, based in Brussels
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