We’re all in this together

Social work is gaining a pan-European dimension as professionals
from across the continent increasingly swap ideas – and get

Ruth Winchester reports on the broad picture, while Kent
director Peter Gilroy describes joint work between his department
and European Union nations

The age of the international social worker is upon us. Crossing
continents in a single bound, British social care staff are now
jetting off to such exotic destinations as Romania, Iceland and

For staff who spend their lives interminably chained to a desk,
it is tempting to conclude that these all-expenses paid trips are
bribes for people in possession of compromising negatives. But in
fact, cheap flights and Eurostar are more likely culprits. In many
parts of the UK it is now cheaper to send someone to Romania for a
week than to a one-day conference in London.

Most normal social workers probably have no more contact with
their European colleagues than they do with Martians. But scratch
the surface and you uncover a ceaseless traffic between the UK and
our European neighbours. Social services directors, home care
managers, social workers, child care staff and so on are popping
abroad on a daily basis to share good practice, demonstrate new
techniques and offer alternative solutions. Some of them even
decide to stay.

But what are the advantages to people in the UK? Should we guard
our precious (and scarce) social care resources more carefully and
leave the rest of Europe to its own devices? Or is it time Britain
stopped regarding itself as an island fortress amid the uncivilised
hordes, and accepted that it could learn a thing or two from other

Europe undoubtedly has a lot to offer the UK – and its most
obvious appeal is the cash spilling from the EU coffers. One
obvious source is the European Social Fund, which regularly pays
out large sums to worthy projects in the UK. But social services in
the UK are increasingly tapping into the large number of European
funds aimed at tackling economic regeneration, poverty and
unemployment, and improving the health of the population.

Allan Bowman, director of social services for Brighton and Hove,
admits to a long history of popping over the channel in search of
funds. He says: “About 15 years ago I would go over and just see
how much I could come back with. Now we’ve got staff whose job it
is to look at possible sources of funding and to help people put
bids in.”

He says that, while there is “quite substantial” money available
in Brussels, bids have to be sensitive to European priorities to be
successful. EU funds are generally expected to be matched by the
local agencies, and once schemes are underway rigorous auditing is
now the rule rather than the exception. Bowman says that while
bidding for money “just because it’s there” can seem tempting, it’s
important only to start looking for EU funding once the local need
for a scheme has been identified.

But funds are just one part of the jigsaw. Improving our own
social care system, improving staff skills and local services are
all benefits that could derive from closer links with Europe.

While people are heartily sick of the unflattering comparisons
with Europe that are trotted out every time something goes wrong
here, there are undoubtedly many things other countries do better.
Germany, for instance, has innovative, government-subsidised
schemes designed to give disabled people better access to
employment. In Italy, people with mental health problems are far
more likely to receive assistance from their extended family or
from voluntary organisations than they are from the state. And some
Scandinavian countries are pioneering flexible intermediate care
packages that allow older people to stay in their own homes for
much longer than they would in Britain.

On the other hand, Britain has a long and illustrious history of
social care and has a lot to offer Europe. Much of France’s child
care system relies heavily on residential and institutional care,
and workers from the UK are helping to change the balance towards
less institutional measures. Staff from Kirklees Council (and eight
other local authorities) regularly go to Romania where they have
contributed experience and expertise to schemes to create drug
action teams, centres for voluntary service, home care services,
family centres and a centre for children with HIV. And UK staff are
working in Hungary to help social workers set up badly needed
community services such as day care and home care services.
Romania, in return, is showing Britain a thing or two about how to
help children leave institutional care and cope in the

British policies are even being adopted wholesale by other
countries. Social workers from Cambridgeshire are currently in
Sweden talking staff through the implementation of the UK’s
assessment framework for vulnerable children, being piloted by
authorities in Britain.

According to Peter Wilson, child care audit manager with
Cambridgeshire and co-ordinator of the Swedish exchange project:
“What’s significant about social work in Sweden is how incredibly
similar it is to social work in the UK. The way their organisations
and local government operate is very close to ours – which makes it
relatively straightforward for them to adopt our systems.”

But while there are many similarities between the UK and its
European neighbours, there are marked differences in organisation
and structure which have an impact on the way social care

Brian Munday is senior lecturer in international social work at
the University of Kent. He suggests that the level of
centralisation we have in the UK would be simply unthinkable in
much of Europe, where local government is responsible for the
lion’s share of commissioning services, raising money and deciding
on priorities. Central government in Europe tends to be more
concerned with outcomes and regulation, rather than hands-on policy
and commissioning.

This is particularly true of health services which are often far
more driven by local government than they are in the UK. This
difference undoubtedly makes “joined-up thinking” between health
and social services far easier than it is here. Despite these
differences, Munday argues that there is a gradual alignment of
social care systems across Europe, driven partly by the need to
drive down public expenditure but also by the ageing population. As
a result, he suggests that countries which at one time have had
full state provision, where local government provided a whole range
of well-funded services, are now moving responsibility for social
services onto the not-for-profit sector and commercial

“This is the case in the UK, and if you look around the other EU
countries, they are all treading a similar path.” Munday points to
the gradual erosion of the old age care provided by the state in
many European countries as evidence.

“In France it is a constitutional responsibility to pay for
residential care when an elderly person in your family needs it,”
he adds. “If you don’t pay you can be prosecuted. And in Germany,
because of the cost of long-term care, they’ve introduced a
long-term care insurance scheme through employee/employer
contributions, whereby a percentage of those contributions is
earmarked for long-term care costs in future. A lot of people are
very interested in that idea.”

Philip Cotteril is director of social services for Kirklees
Council. He says that getting involved in Europe is essential for
UK authorities. “Look at the issue of asylum seekers,” he says.
“Many of those who arrive here are economic migrants. If we can
help local government in other countries with their social and
economic regeneration then we are helping ourselves. We have to be
involved in that debate within Europe.”

But money spent on sending staff to exotic-sounding destinations
must provide concrete benefits to local people – something Cotteril
insists is the case. “Staff get much better training by going out
to Romania and having to use their knowledge and experience out
there than they would on training courses here. At first I had to
do a bit of persuading people to go, but now everyone that has gone
out there is keen to go back – even to the extent of offering to
pay for themselves.”

Peter Gilroy is director of social services for Kent, which has
been developing good links with Europe for many years. He says
local prejudices have to be overcome before strong links can be
built with other countries. “Politicians get upset when they see
conferences in Europe as being jamborees. What’s real for them is
physical outcomes – tangible ways that EU money is being used.
People in Kent are undoubtedly benefiting from these links.” But he
adds: “The truth is that if we are to be strategic about the whole
issue of social services, the UK needs to be more dynamic, more
open-minded. We need to accept that there are some things we do
well, and others we do less well.” CC

Sources of information on European links

n European Institute of Social Services, University of Kent at
Canterbury. www.ukc.ac.uk/eiss

n European social policy research, training and innovation.

n International Federation of Social Workers. www.ifsw.org

Cross channel care

Because of its close proximity, Kent has always had a special
relationship with the European mainland. Kent is part of the Nord
Region of the European Union and the Kent Council leader, Sandy
Bruce-Lockhart, was president of the region in 1999, writes Peter

For more than a decade the Kent social services department has
developed a strong track record of working with European partners
and projects. The primary aim of its involvement is to use the work
to increase our understanding of good practice and innovative
service delivery; to use European contacts to support the
development of staff; and to enhance services through European
funding. Consequently Europe has played an important part in Kent’s
social care development and helped widen its understanding of
different approaches to social inclusion. In striving to enhance
the lives of local communities and disadvantaged groups, social
services consider that its securing of European resources, funding
and opportunities enables the county to benefit.

Lord Norman Warner, an ex-director of Kent social services, had
the foresight to develop the European Institute of Social Services
in partnership with the University of Kent at Canterbury, which has
gone from strength to strength and is now a consortium of local
authorities including health services.

Socio-economic regeneration is a key feature of the council’s
strategic policy, and social services have been able to secure
approximately £6 million of EU funding in the past 10 years.
Recently, for example, European Social Fund finance has underpinned
the Kent-supported employment service to people with physical and
learning difficulties and an EU Integra programme has supported a
successful project in relation to travellers and wider social
inclusion issues. In this second project, partners in the UK,
Spain, France and Ireland developed four pilot schemes to enable
beneficiaries to enhance their employment prospects in the market
and set up eight social co-operatives as vehicles for job

In the early years, Kent’s European activity was mainly
client-focused. A partnership with northern France was formed in
1991 to improve services for clients by learning from each other’s
practice. This partnership has led to a number of valuable
outcomes, including exchanges of practice in relation to looking
after children; the development of shared approaches to domiciliary
care; and work on drugs education and training; in addition to
holidays for older people in Calais (which involved both exchanges
of staff and service users) and drafting the child protection
procedures for colleagues in Calais. Kent is currently examining
the potential use of respite services for older people in

From these early beginnings, Kent has restructured its
transnational work to ensure there is a connection between its
strategic objectives of helping those in need and its programme of
European work.

A key development of this approach is the Arto project which
through funding from the EU links creative employment opportunities
for disabled people and economic regeneration. Arto comprises 12
organisations in seven countries of Europe that have come together
to create a non-profit making market association for products made
by disabled people. The aim of Arto is to create and to improve
employment prospects for disabled people through an increase in
sales of goods and services through retail outlets and e-commerce.
It links together agencies employing disabled people and supports
co-operatives and networking among members. There are three retail
outlets in Kent selling products made by disabled people that are
operating on a purely commercial basis. By promoting cross-border
trade the Arto programme has assisted Kent to take a radical new
approach in working with disabled.

The development of a common European Union policy has wide
support and Kent has been proactive in establishing networks and
protocols with European agencies, particularly in Italy and France,
to address common issues and learn from each other’s experience.
Within the framework of the EU enlargement programme, Kent social
services has also had the opportunity to contribute to the
development of knowledge, practice and policy of several central
and eastern European countries through support and sharing their
expertise with the emerging market economies in the social sector.
Importance is also placed on potential new economic and trading
links that can be established for the wider Kent community as
countries such as Hungary, Czech Republic and the Baltic states,
where we have contacts, move on to take up full membership of the
EU. These countries will present further opportunities for
accessing joint funding in the future hence attracting increased
revenue to the county.

The influence of the European Union over national and local
government has grown enormously in recent years, with Kent having
more effective access to the European commission. Although there
are some tensions with regard to the increasing tendency to
over-regulate, the current major thrust to improve the conditions
of those who are socially excluded from mainstream social and
economic activities offers a new dynamic in our partnership with
colleagues in neighbouring countries. As a consequence, Kent social
services is adapting to the service implications of its role as a
gateway to the UK for business people, tourists, job hunters and
asylum seekers. Over the past three years, the rise in the number
of people claiming asylum in the UK has had a major impact on the
south east of England, and has had a pronounced effect on Kent.
During 1999 more than 70,000 people applied for asylum in the UK. A
significant number of people applied in Dover and became the
responsibility of Kent Council.

With partnerships and projects involving 14 other European
countries, Kent considers there is considerable scope for
innovations and enterprise. Schemes to address social inclusion and
socio-economic regeneration through the sharing of resources and
finding lateral approaches will continue to present themselves
through transnational project work. Kent hopes that the lesson it
has learned and the expertise it has exported in the past decade
will be the foundation for future new and exciting opportunities
within a widening European Union. CC

n Contact Andrew Ireland, assistant director, performance
management at andrew.ireland@kent.gov.uk for more details.

Peter Gilroy is strategic director of Kent social services and
chairperson of the European Institute of Social Services University
of Kent at Canterbury

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