Social Rights

Alfonso Lara Montero: "We have to prepare for a new migratory wave of mothers with children."

3 min
Alfonso Lara Montero is the executive director of the European Social Nieto work

BarcelonaFirst the pandemic and now the crisis in Ukraine. The third sector in Europe is being forced to rethink – and digitise – by leaps and bounds in order to serve all those in need. And Alfonso Lara Montero has even been asked to explain this at the Mobile World Congress (MWC). He is the director of the European Social Network, a European network that brings together the managers of the main third sector organisations in the continent. He arrived in Barcelona thanks to m4Social, organised by the Catalonia's Committee for the Third Sector, and talks to ARA as the big question of how to take care of the refugees from the war in Ukraine takes hold in the public debate.

What social consequence of the conflict in Ukraine is the most difficult to manage?

— Migratory waves, because, as has happened before, they can push social services to the limit. We have to prepare for a new wave, now mainly made up of mothers with children. This will force social services to adapt quickly, both in terms of the number of people and their profile. The European Union has agreed that they be assisted, it is true, but on a temporary basis and without determining objective criteria. At the same time, in Ukraine, social work was not regulated until 2004, it is a very new sector, and it is not developed enough to take in all the people who will require help inside the country. We will have to focus on mental health, trauma and shelter.

In other waves we have seen that it is not easy to host refugees.

— In fact, right now we have a growing homelessness problem all over Europe and after only one week of conflict there is already talk of one million displaced people in Ukraine. The situation has to be constantly planned and monitored, especially by public administrations.

And what is the best thing a citizen can do to help?

— Let me put it another way: what does the public administration have to do to ensure that citizens who want to help do so in the best possible way? And this is the problem. The administration responds in a fragmented way. It is not possible to welcome refugees without a social inclusion plan: the response has to be coordinated. Shows of solidarity are laudable and very necessary, but the administration, as coordinator, has to facilitate this in an organised way. The same thing that happened with covid: many people wanted to help, but there was no good coordination.

Do you have the feeling that in an emergency the government response is always improvised?

— We have to bear in mind that we are facing extremely complex situations. But I do think that administrations should be more agile, at least to plan the consequences of these situations. And they have a duty to coordinate the different initiatives and provide them with resources.

Resources are also needed. In Catalonia, the third sector's employer association constantly denounces underfunding.

— In Catalonia, in Spain and in Europe in general. Social services are undervalued and, therefore, underfinanced. If we compare the situation of the health sector with that of social services, the difference is enormous. That is why, when we talk about coordination, we often talk about a transfer of resources from health to social services. To ensure balance and coordination. The population still perceives social services as help for very specific groups, and this is wrong. Anyone can need them.

This conflict adds to all the inequalities left by the pandemic. Who is suffering most from these inequalities?

— People who were already using social services, because they were left without this help from one day to the next, and vulnerable children and youngsters. Many families did not have the means, for example, for their child to follow classes online. Child protection workers also stopped making visits to families and cases of violence increased. Another large group that has suffered greatly are people who lost their jobs; many ended up asking for help for the first time.

And people who lived in nursing homes?

— Also dramatic. Excess mortality in Europe rose 33% in Germany but 66% in Spain. As a result, new models of care and the humanisation of nursing homes are now being considered. However, it is clear that in Spain and Catalonia there is a need for public government agencies to inspect quality in order to improve services, as is already the case in other countries.

Would universal basic income (UBI) help in this context?

— Yes, but not only. UBI pilot schemes show that it improves mental health, but they are not conclusive in terms of changes in labour market participation or social inclusion. A more comprehensive approach is needed. If we want to put people at the centre, we must be clear that we may have to leave aside territorial issues. People are interested in receiving resources, which are often emergency resources, and not so much in which administration provides them. And the administrations, on the other hand, do see it in terms of territory and competencies. And above all, processes must be streamlined and digitised. Interoperability between the different administrations must be achieved.

Is the third sector bearing the burden of the welfare state?

— What the public administration has to do is to guarantee rights, but whether they are provided by governments or other organisations is irrelevant.