Heather Roy


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“What are the challenges for diaconal work in Europe 2011?”

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Heather Roy

  1. 1. Speech to the Conference of Nordic City Missions 24 August 2011 Heather Roy What are the challenges for diaconal work in Europe in 2011? (draft)Good MorningFirst of all, thank you for inviting me to address you at this conference. For me, it is always apleasure to speak and to meet organisations who are actually doing the work of diaconia andit is a particular pleasure for me to be here with you,, the Nordic city missions, to learn a bitmore about your work and perhaps how we could work more together.As you may have guessed by now I am originally from Scotland and as you will know theCity Mission movement has its origins in Scotland, in Glasgow to be precise. I have notworked with Glasgow City Mission, rather I worked with another organisation that assistedhomeless young people in Glasgow, but the Church I attended was very involved with theCity Mission and still is, and one of the many things I admired about Glasgow City Missionwas how truly ecumenical it was and it seemed, at times, that the work of the City missionwas the one thing that all churches, regardless of background and denomination, couldgather around and support – quite an endorsement – and I imagine it is similar in your cities.City missions have a vital role to play, as does all diaconal action, in showing the Christiancommitment to care for the lost, the last, the littlest and the least, being able to do it from anecumenical basis strengthens this even more and much is achieved, but given, care,support, practical solutions and sometimes just time to those in our societies who findthemselves in difficulties.But even though much is achieved, there is still much to do, and diaconal work all overEurope is beset by challenges as well as opportunities – and I have been asked to sharewith you a few of those challenges and perhaps some ideas on how we can meet thosechallenges.So why am I speaking about challenges in Diaconia? Well, as Secretary General ofEurodiaconia I have the very privileged position and having regular contact with diaconalwork all over Europe and being able to listen to our members and understand what is 1|Page
  2. 2. happening in Iceland, in the Czech Republic, in Armenia, in Serbia… across our network. Itis one of the pleasures of my job that I get to see the actual work happening.That is what Eurodiaconia is, a network of diaconal social service providers and socialjustice actors. Bringing together 34 members in 21 countries in a dynamic, Europe widecommunity of organisations founded in the Christian faith and working in the tradition ofDiaconia of whom all are committed to a Europe of Solidarity, equality and justice. And I amdelighted that Oslo Church City Mission became one of those 34 members earlier this year.Our members come from different backgrounds, churches, diaconal departments ofchurches, diaconal ministries structured as separate organisations from the Church,educational organisations and Christian based but non church aligned organisations but allare working to provide the services and undertake the advocacy needed to enable theinclusion, care and empowerment of the most vulnerable and excluded and ensure dignityfor all.Through the secretariat based in Brussels, at the heart of the European institutions, we lookto bring to decision makers attention the policy changes needed to transform our Europeansociety into places of inclusion and social justice. Such policy work is shaped by ourmembers, based on their everyday experience of diaconal work.But we are not just about bringing about transformation through policy changes. No, as anetwork we recognise that it is the services and assistance that is being provided every daythat can bring about transformation and therefore much of our action as a network is focusedon bringing members together to share experience and questions on our praxis, our ‘whatwe do’. We want to encourage members to be part of a community that shares, partners,discusses and sometimes challenges with and to each other.We also think about our diaconal identity – what makes us different from other social actors,particular secular actors? This theological reflection is also transformation, looking at howour shared Christian faith transforms the way in which we offer services, support andassistance.So this is what we are doing as Eurodiaconia and it is through the networking andpartnership with and between our members that we can see the challenges that ourmembers face both as organisations and as actors in national and European societies alsofacing major challenges. So I want to share with you some of the challenges that arecurrently faced by society and by Diaconia and perhaps suggest a few ways in which thosechallenges can be met. 2|Page
  3. 3. Firstly, I believe that one of the biggest challenges facing us in Europe today is the Crisis..Now, at the moment, when we say Crisis we think financial and economic and the socialimpact of that crisis. But we are here in Norway where the financial crisis has not had thesame impact as elsewhere and indeed our members in Denmark, Finland and Sweden seemto have experienced less of an impact than in other parts of Europe. But the economic crisisis a challenge and I want to come back to this but first I think there is a bigger crisis and thatis the crisis of values we currently have in Europe.Even before the economic crisis of 2008 the global economic situation was distorted with aconcentration of wealth on one side and widespread poverty on the other. In Europe, and inparticularly the European Union, 17% of the population, that is to say 84 million people livewith the constant risk of poverty, the constant fear that they cannot afford their normalhousehold bills and costs. Economic growth seems to have benefitted the rich more thanthe poor in the world and in Europe the gap between rich and poor has increased in the EUat a time when we supposedly more prosperous, resulting in rising inequalities in society.Why?The transformation from an industrial to a knowledge based model of society has come withimportant side effects. The transformation of the labour market has come at the expense oflow skilled, low educated workers and their families. Additionally, such change has affectedthe economic foundations of whole regions and former industrial cities have been altered -necessitating a re-adjustment that has caused ghettoization of areas facing extreme povertyand greater inequalities. We are then faced with the twin challenge of economic and socialinstability and continuing on this path is not sustainable.Much of this has occurred because of choices we have made for our societies, for oureconomies. 25 years of prosperity have made economists, governments and the generalpublic succumb to a seductive belief in a stable, efficient and self-regulating market wheremoney generated more money and wealth more wealth.. we have not been thinking ‘Howcan we share this wealth around.. we have been thinking how can I get richer… This is whatI mean about a crisis of values. We have stopped thinking about WE and now think onlyabout the I.. what do I get out of this.. how do I make money.. how do I make sure I am ok?Indeed, this focus on individual wealth, fuelled by a speculative financial system is a basicfailure that has to be redressed before any economic recovery can be achieved. 3|Page
  4. 4. Today, nearly every policy decision made by our politicians and nearly every life decisionmade by individuals is based on economics… Can we afford more hospitals rather than howto we provide the best health care? We can’t afford to provide basic services to migrants butwe need them to work in our factories to stimulate our industry and GNP. I can’t volunteerwith my local youth organisation because I have to work two jobs to pay my rent. We havechanged our value – and we have allowed our values to be changed – that is our first crisisand our first challenge. We need to move away from societies that are built on economicgrowth and prosperity and see the indicator of well-being as economic prosperity and rathermove towards societies that are built on values of cohesion, solidarity and social prosperity.The financial and economic crisis we find ourselves reveals how muddled our values havebecome. Growth, competiveness and the market are not ends in themselves but means toimprove the well-being of people and to ensure stable, cohesive society. Growth does notequal progress. We need to use our voices, as individuals, as churches, as diaconia toprotest against this trend of growth at all costs and insist on a re-evaluation of our values asa society.So how is this a specific challenge for diaconia in Europe?Well, the social impact of the crisis has dragged more people into poverty and the situationhas deteriorated for people already in despair. Millions have lost their jobs or facereductions in salaries and hours. As public finances have been hit hard the social benefitslevel has sometimes been reduced and cuts in social spending have worsened the livingconditions for vulnerable groups.Our members report an increasing number of people needing assistance for indebtedness,needing assistance to deal with the huge amount owed often through the acquisition ofgoods by credit, something encouraged as a contributor to economic growth. Membershave also seen a huge reduction in the amount local authorities are willing to pay foressential services such as mental health services, elderly care and home care. This meansour members are challenged to decide if they can still offer certain services – morally theyknow they are essential but financially they can no longer do it – or not at the level of qualitythey believe the service requires.Members are having to make tough choices – should we stop providing mental healthsupport – which is costly – so as to provide more debt counselling – which is cheaper? Butwho then provides the services needed for those who need mental health support?Potentially No one.. and so they become more isolated and once again excluded from 4|Page
  5. 5. society? These are tough choices, and diaconal organisations all across Europe are makingthem.. but we also need to change the system that has created these choices.The challenge is not just how we respond to the effects of the crisis through our services butalso how we respond with our voices, with the power and influence we do or could have.We must speak out about the values we have and the values we need. We also need tospeak out on how to respond to the financial and economic crisis. Billions of Euros havebeen spent on bailing out bankrupt banks and now billions of euros are being cut from publicbudget as so called austerity measures. So much time has been spent in trying to find waysto inject ‘confidence’ in the markets. This is in glaring contrast to the little amount that hasbeen spent on preventing people from the devastating impact of this crisis, and the very littleconsideration that has been given to the long term effects of reducing expenditure on socialprotection and social services. Indeed, the most effective societies in combatting povertyand social exclusion are those with the lowest levels of inequality created by redistribution ofincome through generous social benefits and adequate access to services.1Don’t get me wrong, I am not an idealist who thinks that all can be made better by some nicewords and peace and love… we have an economic crisis and actions need to be taken toget out of crisis but if we do not consider how we got here, and the values that have drivenus, and the social impact the crisis is having and will continue to have for at least the nextten years then we betray the common good and learn nothing from the crisis and how tofoster social justice, equality and inclusion in our European and global societies. The crisisis not only about the flaws and wrong decisions with the economic system, but also aboutthe moral legitimacy of the system and its values..The social impact of the crisis is on-going and cannot yet be fully measured. In the autumnEurodiaconia will be releasing its third report on the social impact of the crisis from theperspective of our members. We have been monitoring the impact since early 2009, one ofthe first European social NGO’s to do so, and we will be looking at how to feed our membersexperience and recommendations into policy discussions at European level. But one of theissues we can see emerging are new forms of exclusion in our societies and the return ofsome forms of exclusion that we could have thought addresses adequately by now.The opening up of Europe, the so called borderless continent – has resulted in a massiveincrease in intra-European Union migration (and I include Norway in this as a member of theSchengen area). Following the fall of communism in Eastern Europe many people in thecountries of that area were faced with major socio-economic challenges including high1 The Spirit Level - Why More Equal Societies Almost Always do Better, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett 5|Page
  6. 6. unemployment, eviction of families from their homes, homelessness, drug and alcoholaddictions and low levels of education. As a result, millions of Eastern European migrated towestern Europe in search of work.However, although many make a success of their move to Western Europe, there are somewho face socio-psycho difficulties due to already existing conditions or the experience theyhave in Western Europe. Many end up in jobs that are not appropriately protected by asound legal basis (lack of contract, piece work, week to week contracts etc., lack of minimumwage, no proper insurance etc.) and in this precarious work situation there is a lack ofsecurity. Often, when redundancies need to be made migrants are the first to be let go andthis can then lead to destitution and homelessness as in many countries EU migrants haveno recourse to public welfare support, at least for a certain period of time.Often, people who find themselves in such a situation are uneasy about returning to theircountry of origin. This could be because of a sense of shame at having ‘failed’ to get regularemployment or because of estrangement from family, criminal activity or othersocial/psychological concerns. The lack of recourse to public funds is a sensitive question inmany member states where the social security system is under threat due to austeritymeasures and therefore many member states claim they cannot extend the system to covermigrants.However, the lack of social security/welfare support that many EU citizens experience andwhich leads to destitution for some as migrants can be seen as contradictory to the conceptsof European Free Movement. Such a situation needs a political decision at EU level toaddress the question of access to social services and assistance and in the opinion of somemembers of Eurodiaconia, also needs financing to be available from the European Union tocover the cost of supporting migrants who face such difficulties.But the changes that this new challenge of migration has brought to diaconia in Europe isnot just political, it is practical. There is a changing face of destitution and migration inEurope. The Berlin City Mission told me recently that in the winter of 2009 -2010approximately 43% of their users were of non-German origin. During the winter of 2010 –2011 this had increased to 70%. The Hamburg city mission has reported similar statistics.Challenges arise on a practical level with language and culture, therefore staff andvolunteers need to be found who share a common language and can understand the sociocultural backgrounds. Additionally accessing integrated services in the health and socialfield in increasing difficulty for migrants who may only qualify for emergency health care andfinally there are challenges with status - in the experience of Berlin City Mission theauthorities regard destitute migrants as tourists, therefore not entitled to continuing 6|Page
  7. 7. assistance in Berlin. Another of our members in Finland have faced problems from thegeneral public about their assistance to migrants after a local politician in an EU state fromwhich many migrants come to Finland announced publically that his fellow citizens should goto Finland as this diaconal organisation would give them free health care.For our members who are working with undocumented migrants, often those from outsidethe European Union there are legal challenges too. Our members in France have reportedon how it is potentially illegal to assist an undocumented migrant - where does that leavediaconal assistance to migrants? I know that here in Norway you have found a good way towork with the government and the police when it comes to providing health services toundocumented migrants – well done. But such an agreement depends on the good will andunderstanding of the need for such services and not all political colours are in favour of suchservices. Even if they are, we still have such fear of migration that it blinds us to the needsto provide basic social assistance for basic human dignity such as healthcare, shelter, toiletsand washing facilities while the legal and political process continues. I know that here inOslo one of your recent challenges has been to argue for basic toilet and washing facilitiesfor migrants.. This is basis human dignity and we must speak out to those who would stripsuch basis rights from any person.So diaconia is challenged by migration and what it means for the services we provide andhow it has changed the users of some of those services. But migration also links to anotherchallenge we currently face and that relates to those who run our services, volunteers andparticularly those who are employed in our services.City Missions and other diaconal services across Europe have general benefitted from ahealthy number of volunteers, willing to give some of their precious free time to serve others– and in the European Year of Volunteering Eurodiaconia has been promoting the value ofvolunteering in overcoming social exclusion and breaking down barriers in our societies.However, we still need professional, well trained staff to work in our services and this iswhere the challenge can arise. Working professionally in social care is not an attractiveoption. Caring for the elderly is not seen as being rewarding or a symbol of intergenerationalsolidarity but rather something you do if you can’t find a job elsewhere or if you are lookingfor a part time job. It is often low paid and involves anti-social hours… There is also a cleargender bias in social care. Within the EU, 78% of the people employed in health and socialcare services are women and the gender pay gap is greater than in the total economy.I work voluntarily with teenagers and I have not yet heard one of them saying that they wantthey want to be a care worker when they grow up… so the sector is lacking appropriate staff- but the sector is growing. IN elderly care alone there will be a huge rise in demand in the 7|Page
  8. 8. coming years as our society ages – and so our members need to find staff and so in somecases need to look to other countries to meet that need…. But what impact does this havein the country of origin.. are there other care workers able to fill the gaps left by those thathave gone to other countries to work? What about families? Is migration to work in the caresector leaving a legacy of separated families, children raised by grandparents? Additionally,we have to be ready to ask ourselves increasingly difficult questions -are we paying migrantstaff the same as we would non migrant staff? Are we recognising training andqualifications?. And as an organisation based on Christian values where the principles ofdiaconia should flow through the ways we deliver our work are we investing the right amountof time to ensure that our staff understand our diaconal perspective?Perhaps I slightly digress here but this last point is one of the challenges our members talkabout the most often -what does it mean to provide diaconal social services.. what makesus different from other, particularly not for profit, social service providers -and how do wetransmit that difference to our staff and volunteers, particularly if they have no ‘live’connection to the Christian faith.Some of our members focus on values, ‘converting’ the tenants of the Christian faith and itsexpression through social care into values that can be easily understood and integrated intodaily work, others have put in place training methods, others have certain criteria about whothey can employ. At Eurodiaconia we are trying to support our members in this area throughour theological reflection work and have produced several materials relating to this topicwhich you can download from our website. We have also created a faith in social carenetwork that is designed to encourage debate, discussion and exchange among members.For some of our members the challenge in this area is the relationship between diaconia andthe church – does one need the other? We have some members who have no concretechurch relationship but are Christian based – we have others who have conflict at times withthe Church they are associated with due to differing views on how to address certain issues.Frankly, sometimes the challenge is due to power and visibility – if the diaconal work iscutting edge and the church itself is seen as old fashioned there can be tension. If thediaconal work has a stronger presence in society then there can be tensions. If diaconalinstitutions or services have moved away from the church and operate independently whatdoes that mean for the relationship with the local church in the local area?Within Eurodiaconia we are also challenged by the emergence of new church expressions,movements and denominations, sometimes with very strong social justice orientations. Arewe ready to welcome them into our organisation when in the past we have been very much 8|Page
  9. 9. associated with the established, traditional churches of the protestant, Anglican andorthodox traditions. We have a very wide range of views across our organisations and wewill keep discussing it.Before I digressed I was reflecting on employing staff in Social Services and this leads me tomy next big challenge for diaconia in Europe today and that is the basic provision of socialservices themselves and the legal and administrative barriers that are being put in place.I may have seemed a bit harsh on the use of migrant employees in our services but I shouldqualify that I am concerned about the impact of this practice and not the staff themselves,and would rather see a care sector that is valued as a place of employment and wheresalaries and conditions are fair and just.. but I also think we have to look at the cause of thesituation we have today – diaconal service providers are being asked to provide services ata low cost because the financing available is low.In the majority, and for various reasons, local authorities want their social services as cheapas possible. Although EU public procurement law allows for tendering on quality, it is notnecessarily the reality, partly because not all local authorities understand EU rules but alsobecause local authorities are interested in value for money – and yes, quality is part of thatbut it may not be the overriding concern.Additionally, the growing private market in care services, particularly residential careservices, means that tender cost proposals can be reduced because transfers can be usedfrom other income – profit to mitigate loss… not for profit service providers such as Diaconiacannot do that.. so are at an immediate disadvantage… and when local authorities see theoffer private companies make then it lowers what they are willing to pay for the services…One of our Swedish members told me about how their local municipality wanted to have anelderly care home and invited the diaconia to tender for the service. When the diaconia sawwhat the local authority was willing to pay for the service they had to withdraw from thetender as there was no way that the diaconia would be able to provide the high level qualityof care that they believed was needed for elderly people on the budget proposed by themunicipality.In this European Year of Volunteering we are beset by another challenge and that is theencouragement in some quarters to replace professional care staff with volunteers so as tolower costs. Eurodiaconia and its members are absolutely opposed to this and have issued astatement to the European institutions and partner organisations to this effect. I have said italready and I will say it again that volunteers are an essential and valuable part of the 9|Page
  10. 10. provision of care and actions designed to overcome social exclusion – but volunteers cannotreplace professional staff and it is another false economy it we think we can do that.Volunteers are not cost free – management, training, coaching are all needed to ensure ahigh quality volunteering experience for the organisation and the volunteer.Additionally, volunteering is freely given - it is a gift of time, skills and interests. It is notsomething to be forced because of a lack of the means to employ professional staff andbecome an obligation. Replacing professional staff with volunteers in some services runsthe risk of presenting the social and health care sector as a second rate sector to be run onthe cheap and as I said earlier states must not shrink away from their responsibility ofproviding social and health care for its citizens by encouraging the use of volunteers.A final thought on services. It may not be so relevant for city missions but many of ourmembers are challenged as to what services to provide.. what I mean by this is theincreasing trend to move away from institutional services – care homes etc. to communityand home based services or indeed from the homeless hostel model to housing first models.There is a need to move away, and it is happening at a rapid pace, from large scale, de personalising institutions such as were seen in the communisttimes in Easter Europe. But to withdraw all kinds of institutional living, as some actors wouldpropose, is to deny people the choice in their care solutions We need to talk with users to identify the types of services they would like to have, the choices there should be and engage with users organisations to ensure choice is available.The problem about being asked to talk about challenges is that we are faced with so many ofthem because our society is faced with so many of them – and some challenges we don’teven know yet. And we have political challenges, social challenges, economicchallenges…as well as methodological and theological challenges some that go the verybasis, fundamental questions of who we are and what we do.Earlier this year I attended a meeting of the Directors of some of the Diaconal institutions inthe Nordic countries, those that had started out from the ‘Mother Houses’ or Deaconessmovement. In that meeting the challenge was raised about the purpose of Diaconia – whatdo I mean by that.Well, is Diaconia here to provide services, perhaps on a contracted basis by localauthorities, or are we here to fill the gaps – to provide the services and care for those in oursociety who are not reached by statutory or traditional services, the complex, 10 | P a g e
  11. 11. multidisciplinary approach that can be missing in traditional service settings. This is also aquestion as we see the growing private market in social care – private elderly care homes,private psychiatric care, private nursing and home care.. private addiction clinics… but thereare not really many private homelessness shelters are there?.. or private health clinics onlyfor undocumented migrants? or private community centres for low income housing estates…or the private life skills classes for teenage mothers… so who is to meet those needs if it isnot the private market? ,This is where the question comes in for diaconia -is our role to go out and look for who isNOT being served – and provide those services and that care -or do we continue to providetraditional services such as elderly care, sometimes in competition with the private market.Perhaps you will be disappointed to know that I don’t have an answer to this – I suspect it isa bit of both – traditional and new services and activities. – and that we have to do some gapfilling – and there are different gaps in each of our societies across Europe. But I think thatlike any organisation we need to be constantly looking at what is happening in our societiesand reflecting on our role in that society in the current context.Here in Norway, you have recently been hit with a challenge, a tragedy that can never havebeen anticipated, could not have been seen in context, and one that brought some of thedarkest days that Norway has known., and across Europe we joined together to pray forNorway and to ask for compassion, reconciliation, transformation and strength. What is therole for Diaconia in Norway after this tragedy? I cannot tell you that, but I can tell you whatJohannes told me, that the city mission will be committed to its hard work and to buildfellowship and care instead of hate and violence. There are many different ways to do thatand I am sure that the colleagues here in Norway will be thinking of them and we wish youevery blessing as you do so and continue to bring light when faced with darkness.And our actions are so important, they meet needs, they comfort, repair, reconcile empowerand transform, and they must be context based, based on what is happening now – andwhat we see emerging and across Eurodiaconia we are bringing members together todiscuss the how and to share knowledge and experience.I started this speech talking about the Crisis, about the rising social needs as a result offinancial failure, about the need to rethink our values, to reverse the trend of people workingfor the economy rather than the economy working for people, not to make the mostvulnerable pay for the errors of the banks and the super-rich. We are all challenged by this,and each of you is working on a day to day basis to mitigate the effects on the people you 11 | P a g e
  12. 12. serve. But is that enough? I can stand here and tell you about the problems and challengesfacing diaconia, facing our societies and what we can do about them. Miranda will no doubttell you about the challenges facing Roma people in Europe and the increasing isolation,stigmatisation and exclusion experienced by Roma people… but as I said before it is notenough. If we do not tell those in power, those who take the decisions that affect people,particularly the most vulnerable, then we are not meeting our biggest and need and perhapsour biggest challenged – to change the structures and policies that cause marginalisation,exclusion, vulnerability and need in the first place. Diaconia is not just here to pick up thepieces – although we do that very well and it is needed – but we can also be a propheticvoice, a voice with strength, passion, experience and knowledge of how people have cometo be in the situation they are, about how systems have failed them, of how small changes topolicies or programmes could have a massive effect.Within Diaconia, we can be afraid to use our voices, to be seen as political, to get caught upin the sometimes murky and egotistical world of MP’s and Councils..but we must do so…yes, we are challenged by the changes in society – but we must also be challengers… wecannot accept societies where the inequality gap is so wide, where our values are distorted,where access to social security systems is conditional on your productivity, where the dignityof each person is forgotten. We must work for social justice.Each person has the right to participate in social, cultural and economic life and this isachieved by appropriate services that ensure participation and integration but also by theremoval of the structural causes of injustice. That is our biggest challenge in Diaconia, to beactors in both, to marry care with cause, to be prophetic and to be person focused.Working together…. 12 | P a g e
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