Financing social services - How to ensure sustainable financing for social services. Recommendations for authorities responsible for fund’s implementing programming

By Adrian Adamski*, Poland


In Europe, the demand for social services is growing due to demographic and societal changes, the impact of economic crisis, and increasing rates of unemployment, poverty and social exclusion. At the same time, public budgets are shrinking and expenditure for social services has been cut in many member states, to implement austerity measures.

Private sources are being used to complement public financing for social services. Civil society organisations (CSOs), social economy actors and social enterprises are growing everywhere and many of them provide social services. Competition is rising among service providers, as more businesses are interested in providing social services, at least in some sectors. Governments and the European Commission put pressure on the efficiency and effectiveness of social service delivery.

It is essential to clarify the different roles the public, private and voluntary sectors have to play in this complex scenario.



The key elements for a policy framework that ensures sustainable financing for social services:

  • No matter whom the provider is or the source of funding used (public or private), member states must retain responsibility for setting the legislative, regulatory and financial frameworks for social services policy to ensure that a profit-making logic does not prevail over the general interest enshrined in the mission of these services. Provision of services must respect users’ human rights and guarantee a high level of quality.
  • Public budgets must ensure adequate financial support for the provision of social services, as this represents an effective investment for and an essential element of cohesive and resilient societies. Sources of private funding can complement public budgets especially in the countries hit hardest by the economic crisis. When private funders are involved, public authorities must ensure that donors and investors act in the general interest and that private financing is subject to high transparency requirements.
  • When funders, institutions, donors or investors request social impact measurement of a specific service from applicants, it should be possible to choose among existing methodologies and tools to find a measurement technique best suited to the specific service to be funded.

Funds additional to the budgets of member states.

Funds working together to support economic development across all EU countries, in line with the objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy – crucial transformative role in shaping social services and social infrastructures that is additional to the budgets of member states.

European Structural and Investment Funds -European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) – particularly the European Social Fund (ESF) and European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

European Social Fund – essential source of financing social services development. The ESF provides financial support to develop and modernise social services. The ESF is Europe’s main tool for promoting employment and social inclusion – helping people get a job (or a better job), integrating disadvantaged people into society and ensuring fairer life opportunities for all. It does this by investing in Europe’s people and their skills – employed and jobless, young and old. Every year, the Fund helps some 10 million people into work, or to improve their skills to find work in future.  In this programming period, the ESF will provide some €80 billion in funding to:

  • train people and help them get into work
  • promote social inclusion
  • improve education & training
  • improve the quality of public services in your country.

Funding is given to a wide range of organisations – public bodies, private companies and civil society – which give people practical help to find a job, or stay in their job. The implementation methods are programmed in call-of-proposal or systemic projects.

Better public services through ESF

Reducing regulatory and administrative burdens and promoting high standards of transparency, integrity and accountability in public administration helps to increase productivity and strengthen competitiveness.

In less-developed Member States and regions, the public services responsible for developing employment-related strategies and their implementation may lack the capacities to do so in the right way and cost-effectively. For this reason, ESF projects are helping strengthen the efficiency of public administration in delivering public services in all sectors. Support is available under two priorities:

  • More effective institutions: boosting the quality of a broad range of services available to citizens, workers and job-seekers in their towns, cities and regions.
  • Partnerships for progress: helping the public authorities and stakeholders such as NGOs to work together design and deliver successful programmes.

ESF projects are offering improvements in a number of areas: for example, in the quality of civil servants who may need better training in both ‘back office’ and customer-facing roles; in the take-up of information technologies, where more use of IT might promote efficiency and information sharing; and the way the organisations approach their work that might benefit from a more ‘partnership’-oriented approach. Implementing e-government initiatives is an important feature of these improvements by making information more accessible to citizens and speeding up their dealings with their local and national authorities. These are just a few examples.

ESF support to better public services includes modernising labour market institutions such as employment offices and services as well as health sector institutions and others. Better education and training for civil servants and public sector workers is also supported. The ESF helps to improve the management of programme design and implementation – ensuring all viewpoints are heard. And workers’ organisations and NGOs active in employment, the health sector, education, social inclusion and equal opportunities are encouraged to take part and improve their own capacities.

Recomendations for authorities concerning programming process:

  • Make better use (from the start) of complementarity between ESF and ERDF to allow the development of appropriate services around social infrastructures (for instance, renovation of social housing and training of residents on how to save energy).
  • Strengthen the institutional capacity of public authorities in managing funds by all possible means, including planning, organising, delivering or commissioning social services
  • Do not decrease direct investments addressing persons with disabilities, as accessibility has been mainstreamed as a pre-condition for the use of all ESIF funds. 
  • Revising decisions on investment priorities based on previous research and consulting with non-government organisations

 Recommendations for municipalities (for additional financing):

  • Investing in human resources with proper skills to prepare successful applications coping with lack of adequate skills on project implementation procedures, EU procedures of applying and managing grants
  • Investing in human resources with proper language skills (English) 
  • Increase awareness on Union Programmes at the local level (through awareness/informational/promotional campaigns, working on flow of information between responsible structures managing Union Programmes 
  • Partnership with other EU or neighbour countries increasing the challenge to establish sound networks and apply successfully
  • Increasing the range of initiatives like National Contact Points (NCP) (at central level and has made considerable progress, but still remains limited in terms of national wide coverage)
  • Investments in human capital – on important managerial positions and employees responsible for communication with the public/ beneficiaries -social workers and financial literacy – matter of importance



Mr. Adamski is graduated in Cracow University of Economics. He is the Head of the ESF Office in Bureau of Regional Development (Swiętokrzyskie Region in Poland).He is a member of Polish Interdepartmental Task Force on the Implementation of EU Structural Funds, author and project manager for numerous ESF and other EU funded Grant schemes projects. He is the region’s ambassador of transnational cooperation (Inclusive Europe project)