We have heard about it a million times if we heard it once, and we all agree about it: what we really need is to teach people how to fish. However, reality is more complex and difficult than it appears at first. Actual promotion of the most disadvantaged families requires an integrated system of services and the co-responsibility of all social actors, accompanied by considerable public investments. To provide psychosocial promotion services is much more costly than providing financial benefits, although it implies less social visibility and media impact. Besides, where families are poorer (in a multi-factorial perspective) there will be smaller margins of success. Therefore, even in this context, a sort of “Matthew effect” starts showing: the last among the last are the most hard to reach.
Nonetheless, this is a challenge that cannot be given up, both in Latin America (where CTP policies have achieved a maturity that allows for more ambitious objectives) and in Europe.
Today, the possibility to write a new chapter for social protection must go with the actual capacity to actuate it. The prospects look different in Europe: the situation of economic crisis has hindered the sustainability of the system, right when interventions are most needed.
In both contexts the evolution of assistance to the most vulnerable population is taking on specific forms according to the different national and regional contexts. Notwithstanding this, transversal themes and issues are generally the same. Eurosocial, through “Recíprocamente”, means to go on with the dialogue concerning cash income supports (CTP in Latin America, Minimum Income Schemes in Europe.)
Our purpose is to trigger an exchange about some of the topics pointed out by the greatest experts of this sector in each one of the countries that have convened (or will convene) during two International Seminars promoted by Eurosocial II and CEPAL, the first held in Antigua (Guatemala) in July 2014 and the second in Naples (Italy) in November 2014. Five transversal themes have been so far identified:
1.- “When is no longer necessary to teach how to fish?”
The weak expenditure of programmes
No Social Programme is conceived as a permanent aid. Traditionally, the success of interventions has been interpreted in terms of the number of families that, thanks to the public benefits received, have durably come out of a situation of poverty or insecurity. However, a binary “in/out” vision appears scarcely useful. Protection is an element of continuity that is carried out with more or less intensity through what Europeans have described as the three pillars of the fight against poverty: financial benefits, inclusive labour market, and services. In such a perspective, Cash Transfer Programmes are a link to access an integrated system. Programmes prematurely closed in conditions of vulnerability may entail the danger of a regression, which may neutralize the investment made. Consequently, different questions are arising that can be shared in RECÍPROCAMENTE: Where is the exit point of programmes? How much on-call time is necessary? Is there a sector of the population whose degree or features of vulnerability make it impossible to limit the right to assistance? Why some families cannot respond to the proposals that condition benefits? Is it their fault or the system’s? Is it enough to increase employability when the labour market is subject to oscillations and crises, as in Europe, that have nothing in common with the qualification of human resources? How to facilitate the accessibility of services in rural contexts?
2.- “Who wants to buy my fish?”
The shift from investing in competences to the consolidation of an inclusive market
In connection with the previous point we need to acknowledge the role played by such programmes, not just as investments to foster social cohesion by avoiding new and more serious forms of marginalization or exclusion, but also as a contribution to the economic power of the country. The connection between assistance/social promotion on one side, and the productive activities and the general affluence of a country on the other is not always rightly comprehended. It is undoubtedly necessary to overcome the rigid view of Income Support Programmes as governmental passive expenditure for the poor by adopting a new vision, closer to investments in the human and social capital of the country’s labour market. In fewer words, this would mean to turn the market into an ally for the promotion of families. It would also mean to encourage the provision of decent jobs, by pooling the efforts made by socio-assistential policies and employment policies, shifting from an assistential protection to contributory protection systems. This is difficult, though. It may be useful to launch a mutual dialogue in RECÍPROCAMENTE to share success strategies: How to facilitate the employability of the beneficiaries of programmes? Are incentives to companies really useful? What social economy experiences have proved to be effective? What are the keys to cooperative economy? How could the for profit sector turn into an ally, leaving aside competition logics?
3.- “Who is fishing and who is looking after the children?”
Poverty, gender and families
It is usually women who take care of children or elders; if they are alone, they may even have to fish and look after the children at the same time. The question of women’s rights is at the core of real integration projects. It seems that the results of social programmes are meagre, if considered from the viewpoint of gender rights. Someone is already talking about a feminization of poverty.
Thus, it is imperative to reflect together in RECÍPROCAMENTE about the causes of such poor results: How to act in favour of greater equality in intra-familial responsibilities? Do we need policies for the family or policies for families?
How to support a real promotion of the rights of emancipation for resourceless women?
Are women paying the consequences of an intervention “in favour of families”, wherein their function for the cohesiveness of the family system is taken for granted?
4.- “Why fishing with a net? Why fishing with a rod? We never did it like that!”
Cultural Differences and Ethnic Minorities.
Income Support or Conditioned Transfers are applied to a whole territory in favour of the population in need. Oftentimes, ethnic or cultural minorities become a hard to reach target or entail a further managerial challenge, both because of the scarce involvement of beneficiaries and of the obligation to act in accordance with cultural modalities and identity features that make it difficult to intervene. To find a balance between the respect for cultural diversity and the attainment of improved living conditions for the targeted population is a common objective in both contexts, with the obvious differences characterizing them: How to provide programmes in accordance with ethnic differences? How to foster a participation that does not imply cultural assimilation dynamics?
Which methodologies for solidarity formulated within other cultures are worthy of being applied to different contexts?
How much does the social representation in the popular imagination affect the integration of ethnic minorities?
5.-“What if we fished together and then distribute the fish? Who will mind the river?”
The role played by organized social endeavours and by the institutional coordination of public accountability.
The titularity of the programmes to fight against poverty and to promote equality is assumed by different public administrations in each country. The most advanced models require some coordination between the central government and local bodies. An excessive centralization may produce the desresponsibilization of local communities, greater difficulties in the activation of territorial resources, and a distancing of beneficiaries. Conversely, an excess of subsidiarity ascribing the utmost prominence to local councils, municipalities, districts or provinces may generate different levels of service in each area, and it would not ensure equal rights for all citizens… On the other hand, the management of the network of interventions needs to give a prominent role to citizens social initiative through associations and other elements of the organized civil society. We need to evaluate our respective experiences and to establish an exchange about the best way to implement policies: How to bring together virtuous mechanisms among the different levels of the administration? How to trigger solidarity community action? How to boost the prominence and the participation of citizens in the solving of their own problems? How to plan actions involving all interested actors?