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Rebuilding an Inclusive, Value-based Europe of Solidarity and Trust through Social Investments

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - RE-InVEST (Rebuilding an Inclusive, Value-based Europe of Solidarity and Trust through Social Investments)

Reporting period: 2017-09-01 to 2019-04-30

Although ‘inclusive growth’ was one of the pillars of the Europe 2020 strategy, the social dimension lost momentum with the (Euro)crisis and the ensuing priority given to macro-economic stabilisation policies. Meanwhile, unemployment and poverty reached new records, particularly in the peripheral regions. Amidst this crisis, the EC launched the ‘Social Investment Package’ (SIP) in 2013. The ambition of Re-InVEST (initiated by the 'Alliances to Fight Poverty' - see is to strengthen the philosophical and empirical underpinnings of the EU's Social Investment strategy, based on a human rights and capabilities framework. Citizens from 12 European regions, who were themselves severely affected by the crisis, actively participated in the co-construction of a more powerful and effective European social investment agenda. This translated into the following specific research output:
1. an innovative research framework (PAHRCA = participative action research based on a human rights and capabilities approach) involving mixed teams of academic researchers, workers from civil society organisations and trade unions, people from vulnerable groups in the co-construction of knowledge on social policy issues. This resulted in methodological handbooks for academic researchers as well as practitioners;
2. diagnosis of the long-term social damage of the crisis in terms of (the erosion of) human rights, social (dis)investment, and loss of capabilities and collective agency of vulnerable groups. The human damage is much more profound than expected, sometimes irreparable, and necessitates the systematic introduction of political alert systems and non-regression clauses in social policies;
3. analysis of the relationships between the rise of poverty and social exclusion during the 2008-2013 crisis, the decline of social cohesion and trust, and the threats to democracy in the EU. The collapse of trust in (European) political institutions, which fuelled the rise of right-wing populism, was clearly correlated with social disinvestment and the resulting economic insecurity of vulnerable groups;
4. critical analysis of the policy discourse of the EU's Social Investment Package (SIP), and lessons for subsequent initiatives such as the European Pillar of Social Rights. Despite the obvious intention of the SIP to revamp social policies, the research uncovered contradictions between the plea for productive and sustainable social investment on the one hand, and neoliberal marketisation principles, fiscal austerity and intra-EU social and fiscal dumping on the other. A more credible social investment agenda necessitates adequate public funding through 'upward fiscal convergence', democratic deliberation of social policies with the civil society, and revision of the EU's subsidiarity principle in the social field.
5. application of an 'enriched' social investment model in the field of active labour market policies and social protection: the evaluation of recent policies disqualified the EU's pervasive 'making work pay' doctrine in this field. Based on case studies with different vulnerable groups in 7 countries, the research put forward a comprehensive agenda for quality reforms in active labour market policies;
6. application of the enriched social investment model to public intervention in 5 selected basic service markets: water provision, housing, early childhood education, health care and financial services. Although the EU has produced useful guidelines in each of these service sectors, the research provides concrete suggestions for more proactive legal, financial and political action to regulate markets and protect the basic rights of vulnerable citizens.
7. capacity building in civil society organisations for the promotion of the European social investment agenda. In addition to direct empowerment of the participating NGOs and vulnerable citizens during the (action-)research, the 'Alliances to Fight Poverty' pursue their efforts to disseminate the key messages of the research through networking and advocacy.
Academic output
• 57 research reports, 54 journal articles/ book chapters, 2 books
• Presentations at scientific seminars / conferences: 119
• PhDs: 3
• training workshops: 32
Policy-oriented output
• Policy-oriented publications: 26
• Policy briefs: 14
• Non-academic public seminars, round-tables, conferences: 62
Civil society / public opinion
• Social media, web pages, newsletters: 98
• Press articles, radio interviews, …: 56
• Community action, networking events: 19

Complete list of (500+) outputs available on request.

Social / political impact at local / national level

o One of the best examples is the action around homelessness that emanated from the Irish contributions to the research. A dialogue was organised between homeless families and policy makers and the Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC). A policy brief was published and launched in the national parliament. This resulted in national media coverage, discussion in the national parliament and an invitation to present the research to parliamentary housing committee. This knowledge is continually drawn on by various political and civil society campaigns.
o The NGOs participating in the research, but especially the co-researchers (from vulnerable groups) experienced strong empowering effects. They strengthened their self-esteem and self-efficacy as well as their understanding for other affected persons with different problem constellations. Some acquired new skills they could use directly to generate income (e.g. interviewing and transcription).

Political impact at EU level

o As Re-InVEST included a sectoral study of water provision services, we recommended to include water into the list of essential services under Principle 20 during a seminar held with DG EMPL, and the suggestion was adopted by the Commission.
o During the European election campaigns, the NGOs involved in Re-InVEST extensively drew on the Re-InVEST findings for their memoranda. Elected befriended candidates will provide a direct line for further communication with the European Parliament in the coming years.
o Through the ‘Alliances to fight poverty’, the consortium will continue lobbying with the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Economic and Social Committee – to present relevant research findings and policy recommendations.

Scientific impact

o Apart from the 'substantive' outputs of the research, the main scientific innovation of Re-InVEST is the PAHRCA approach (Participatory Action Research based on a Human Rights and Capabilities Approach). It combines a far-reaching participatory methodology with a strong theoretical vision of social policy. It was disseminated through specific publications and presentations at public seminars and methodological conferences. The team received positive feedback from scientists, co-researchers from vulnerable groups, and the partner NGOs.
o Three PhD dissertations have emanated from Re-InVEST, and findings of the Re-InVEST research are used in university courses and in-service training for professionals (social workers, health care workers, ombuds-services, etc. - see table on training inputs in Annex).