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WP6 - Building blocks for social investment (II): basic service markets

Re‐framing of the European service market policies (in five selected basic service sectors: water provision, early childhood education, housing, health care and financial services) from the social investment perspective: qualitative and quantitative assessment of policy reform;


The Europe 2020 blueprint showed a fair balance between economic, social and environmental objectives but was overshadowed by the Euro‐crisis and subsequent strict austerity measures. This led to some negative outcomes for social objectives and access to social and public services. In addition, the intensified agenda of internal competition means promoting social investments becomes less likely. The climate of intra‐EU competition, in the form of liberalisation, deregulation, and privatisation of public services is called into question. Critics argue that all of this leads to loss of individual and collective capabilities and to social dumping, which affects basic rights. There is also a great fear that this would result in low‐quality services and exclusion of vulnerable clients.

This work package will further explore social minimum standards and rights‐based approaches as potential responses to social dumping and as a way to mitigate the social impact of liberalisation. This work package thus engages directly with issues raised in the Social Investment Package and the application of EU rules on State aid, internal market and public procurement to social services and the degree to which they reinforce or attenuate the liberalisation, privatisation and deregulation of the sector, and lead to the provision of poor quality services.

A private copy of the synthesis report of this workpackage is available on request.

To do

Our interest is in analysing existing market regulations to further improve minimum standards reflecting the human rights and capability approach in various types of services:

  • water
  • health care
  • housing 
  • early childhood education and care
  • basic financial services

This work package will put more emphasis on ‘governance’ than on investment (properly speaking). In doing so, we will use three key criteria to evaluate the social impact of market governance:

  • access and affordability:
    from a human rights perspective, the fight against (open and indirect) discrimination is a necessary but insufficient condition. ‘Progressive universalism’ (universal access combined with preferential treatment of vulnerable groups) is increasingly advocated as a guiding general principle in efforts to redistribute public expenditure; quality: the EU’s liberalisation policy and Services Directive prompted privatisation, competition and commercialisation. Loss of the benefits from government interventions such as price setting, quality regulation or subsidisation may result in low‐quality services, social dumping and exclusion of vulnerable clients. 

  • distributional impact:
    social services in particular are currently less redistributive than cash social transfers. We will therefore also examine in detail the distributional effects of system characteristics and policies in the member states/regions, in order to derive EU‐wide lessons and proposals for regulation of these markets.

1. National case studies will be carried out by mixed research teams in seven countries (IE, IT, RO, EN, NL, Scotland, PT). First of all, a general mapping will be made of recent trends in all five sectors, from the perspective of vulnerable groups. Next, in‐depth case studies will be carried out in each of these seven countries/regions by mixed research teams of researchers, people from vulnerable groups, union/NGO workers and/or professionals, according to the ‘crossing of knowledge’ methodology outlined above. The findings will be exchanged during European workshops and subsequently synthesised by the academics.

2. a comparative statistical analysis will be carried out on EU‐wide datasets. Key characteristics of the five service markets will be mapped in different EU countries (amount of public spending, degree of liberalisation, existence of different types of minimum social standards, social tariffs, etc.). Next, multilevel analysis will be applied to examine the impact of these characteristics and of recent reforms on the access, perceived quality and distribution of the services (by age, gender, level of education, ethnicity/citizenship and income level wherever available).

Towards inclusive service delivery through social investment in Europe. Synthesis report: available on request