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Social welfare system – next Estonian Skype

1:43:00 PM

Will volunteers save our welfare system?

Keiu Roosimägi
Helpific - CEO/Chairwoman of the Board
Estonian Association of Sharing Economy, Board Member

According to Statistics Estonia, in the beginning of this year there lived ca 146 343 disabled persons in Estonia, for example 39 020 of them live in Harju County, 8 633 in Pärnu County and 22 088 in Tartu County. According to the social research about the managing of disabled people of Tallinn (Saar Poll OÜ, 2016), people need additional help due to their disability for example in activities such as shopping -  63% of the cases, and navigating outdoors - 46% of the cases.

Most disabled people have their members of family as every-day helpers and nearly every tenth disabled person who needs additional help for at least a couple of hours per day, has no-one to help regularly. According to the above mentioned research, only 3% of the respondents have used the service of a personal helper, but every third disabled person who is working, could use some sort of help in managing the current job.

This acutely shows that the capacity of the state and local authorities to guarantee the so-called “independent life“ services (personal helper, transport) for disabled people in conditions and scope necessary for the latter, is critically low, which means that due to the lack of services, disabled people still do not have access to education and partly for this reason, are not able to enter the job market. 

Let’s donate our time!
If we consider that at least 1/3 of disabled people need the so-called “independent life“ services (personal helper, transport) for approximately 2 hours per day, it means 728 hours per person per year and altogether 35.5 million hours of need of service. There is no need to state the fact that local authorities are in real trouble and the state needs new ideas and factual solutions to ease and solve  the situation, meanwhile we shouldn’t forget that the population is aging, a lot of people in need have no support from family nor support network.  One more important fact – the main reason is not the lack of money, but the fact that local authorities have no human resources to provide the services, no vision of possible innovative solutions nor the will to implement them. 

Taking into consideration the low social expenditure in Estonia and therefore insufficient capability of health- and social services in offering the necessary amount of help (especially in rural areas), I would encourage the local authorities to think boldly and to step out of their current conventional patterns of thinking “but we have always done it this way”. 

For example the Estonian Employers’ Confederation, in cooperation with Swedbank, has turned up with a very thankworthy and exemplary initiative that asks all Estonian enterprises and employers to donate their time to charity. According to their calculations, if every employee in the private sector would get one extra free day per year to do charity work, it would mean more than 4 million hours. The recipient of the charity could be an individual or an organization, but it is presumed that the helping is done in teams.
Keiu Roosimägi. Photo: Daisy Lappard

The idea of the Estonian Employers’ Confederation and Swedbank could be further developed – if we count that 31% of our population participates in volunteer work and the most striking degeneration in the ranking of all the fields where contribution through volunteer work is given, is precisely in social work and health care field (16% in year 2013), public sector itself should definitely come along with the initiative. Among other things, doors should also be opened to the possibility that employers would within the idea in question, create a possibility for the employees to contribute in the social welfare as an individual and this way the employees would for one day in a year be able to be a helper to a disabled person or for example a personal helper to an elderly person.  In these kind of solutions the employer would pay the employee his usual salary and could also for example compensate to the employee a certain amount of expenses related to participating in volunteer activities (transportation, catering) on which the employer wouldn’t have to pay the fringe benefit tax. For example in case of the Unemployment Office, the volunteer gets a daily allowance and certain expenses will be compensated.

The Estonian Unemployment Office, through which a registered unemployed person can currently participate in volunteer work but not according to the principles of the sharing economy, should also join with the idea. Namely according to the conception of the sharing economy, activities take place through web platforms, in case of which temporarily underused resources are shared.  This way, for example the service is shared from consumer to consumer, in current case for instance a local volunteer helper from the local community is ordered through the web platform and the local authority’s social worker himself doesn’t have to be the service provider. Similar environments are for example those offering transport sharing – Taxify, Uber. Through sharing economy, for example ordering a personal helper should be as easy as ordering a taxi. About the latter as much, that the sharing economy does not operate effectively only in a business model oriented to profit, but it is a new opportunity in developing the so-called welfare services and empowering people and communities.
Helpific and our volunteers: successfully involving volunteers helps to complement and increase the content and capacity of traditional services.

While developing thankworthy initiatives and ideas further, it is totally realistic that the percent by which the access to education, labour market and independent life of people with special needs increases and the strain on caregivers lessens, would be remarkably high. Sharing economy’s success is also based on new IT-opportunities, the growth of people’s awareness and altered attitudes.

In year 2014, a web-based support environment Helpific was founded, through which people with special needs can order volunteer helpers. It is an environment that based on the model of the sharing economy, mobilizes communal resources and is a possible tool for the social workers of local authorities. The conception of the idea comes from the experience of Holland, who with a complete welfare reform navigates from the model of providing traditional social services towards involving active citizens more in providing help.

Volunteers in social field
Successfully involving volunteers helps to complement and increase the content and capacity of traditional services. Additional support work does not substitute the existing professional social work, however, several long-term rehabilitation elements and support services do not in reality require high-level training and specific skills. It is clear that psychotherapy, physiotherapy or case solution need highly qualified work force, but at the same time helping people in managing every-day life could be provided by so-called non-professionals. Shopping, transport, domestic chores, accompanying in events and free time activities, are situations that don’t need professional interference when there are “helping hands” in the community. Appropriate communal help lessens the work load of professional social- and health care workers.

In the beginning of October, Helpific representative Triin Üksvärav, and the leader of the volunteer field of Estonian Village Movement Kodukant, Eha Paas, met with the Minister of Social Protection, Margus Tsahkna. One of the discussion topics was involving volunteers in the social field in the same way way as the involving of volunteers to internal security was activated by the Ministry of Internal Affairs – in addition to professional rescuers and policemen, citizens themselves establish security in Estonia, contributing in the rescue- and police work as volunteers. Although so far the social field has had a rather negative image, it is possible to shift public opinion and social norms including enhancing the simplicity of helping each other and the positive image among people.

28.3 million euros for developing the social services
During the period of 2016–2020, implementation of the measure “Welfare services that support participating in the labour market” will be conducted, during which 28.3 million euros from European Union Social Fund shall be divided between the local authorities. The result of the subsidy should be the reducing of caring load of people in working age, supporting the entering of the job market and continuing in the job market as well as supporting the managing of people with special needs in the working age to enter the job market or to continue in the job market when capability increases. Projects will be supported within the measure, through which the service of a personal helper shall be developed and designated on the administrative territory of the local authority, to obtain among others the above mentioned goals and results. By year 2020, the local authorities should be able to sustainably manage by themselves.
Platforms of sharing economy help to increase the role of specialists as coordinators, supporters and supervisors of the support network while not always being the immediate service providers.

According to the analysis (Developing social services in 2016-2020), nearly all local authorities feel the need for a systematic and coordinated development of the service of a personal helper and the size of the target group in case of the service in question is solidly growing. Counties also have a vast need for an integral development of social transport mainly to release the people in the municipalities’ social field from the role of a driver-logistic. Many municipalities have a planned growth of 60% in developing the service of a personal helper.

After looking through the analysis and meeting with several leaders of the association of local authorities and representatives of municipalities, I can state one thing – terms such as innovation, ICT (information- and communication technology), sharing economy, mobilizing communal resources, sustainability – are still a foreign language to us. Also, I have not personally been able to ascertain whether the Ministry or municipalities have a uniquely comprehensible vision about the social welfare in the future and mainly of its’ sustainability. I also met with a head of one municipality who stated that it would be a clear suicide to come to “test” our new ideas in their county. It also needs to be said that the person in question could not understand why there is a need to develop services – there is no work for the people with special needs any way!

Furthermore – the analysis itself also shows that local authorities have mainly seen among others the following opportunities as financing the developing and providing of the services in social field: a rise in pensions and an increase in the client base is hoped for, after the Project the service providing shall be continued from the municipalities’ own resources as a rule and among others it will be tried to observe that no unsound competition would be given to the private market!

Therefore – where will the 28.3 million euros go to? Municipalities have mainly mentioned as currently planned methods for the providing, developing and availability of welfare services, the sharing of information, recommending services to clients, organizing joint trainings, buying the services from other municipalities, participating in the upkeep of the service as a joint payroll fund of municipalities (people will be hired as personal helpers so to speak for instance) etc. It was also mentioned that pilot projects clarify the real need for the service and if the need for the service will be confirmed then bigger and more capable (!) municipalities will find a way to finance the continuance of offering the service. To me personally it sounds like an absurd waste to start once again after 25 years to find out the need of services and only after spending the money to start thinking about what to do after the projects. In addition, one municipality rested on the fact that economic situation of municipalities is affected by the global financial crisis – since the municipality’s budget is related to the inflow of income tax from the residents of the municipality, it is not possible to prevent the budget risk deriving from external circumstances and a probable scenario is that in tight economic situations, developing other fields than the social field is preferred.

To summon up – municipalities shall spend 28.3 million euros, but I seriously doubt that as a result of the measure the caring load of people in the working age would be reduced and they could enter the job market, and people with special needs in the working age would have wider opportunities to enter the job market.
Although it can be stated that providing social services is the responsibility of local authorities and why should people do the state’s job in a way, the unavailability of social services is no longer the sole responsibility of local authorities. Mainly because we are all aging and would all need different services in the future.

Social welfare system – Estonian Nokia
It has been mentioned that for example the service of a personal helper does not reach enough of those in need and the need of the service of a personal helper should be evaluated already when designating the disability. In the autumn of the year 2016, Helpific conducted an inquiry about the need of the so called “independent life” service.  The data gathered so far shows that the most needed is guiding at cultural events, dealing with public offices etc (45.5% of the respondents) and transport (36.7%) and only some (!) mentioned that they find help through the local authority. 70.5% of the respondents would like and are willing to accept volunteer help, others would rather pay the helper.

In the year 2013, Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) recognized for instance the town of Tallinn for the fifth time as one of the top 7 most innovative communities in the world, it can also be stated that Estonia is the world leader in developing and being aware about information society. Compared to the development of information society, Estonian social welfare system and its capacity lies relatively low on the graded scale. I believe that the time of the so called alternative solutions has arrived. Not to mention that more than 20 years of the current social welfare system has not brought us any further and participation and involvement of disabled people in society, fundamental right to dignity, autonomy and independence and accessibility, established in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, cannot be put on hold any more.  Although it can be stated that providing social services is the responsibility of local authorities and why should people do the state’s job in a way, the unavailability of social services is no longer the sole responsibility of local authorities. Mainly because we are all aging and would all need different services in the future.

When there is no light at the end of the tunnel, the state should change its course. Among other things, the role of communities in the society should be introduced to the public, as the feeling of joint social responsibility is increasing and the cooperation between all the three sectors and flexible innovative solutions directed to future are of no less importance. Our innovative social welfare system could be the next Nokia we have searched for so long, or the next Skype.

Finally – will the state lose all of its responsibility and obligations in organizing and ensuring the social protection? No. With the platform, specialists can create support networks around their clients. Platforms of sharing economy help to increase the role of specialists as coordinators, supporters and supervisors of the support network while not always being the immediate service providers. This way the efficiency and productivity of specialists increases. In cooperation with local support networks, more people in need will be reached in the most optimal way. Flexible and active local support network can adjust the action and capacity according to the needs and offer help where it is currently needed the most. Principles of involvement and citizen activity are a popular approach in several Western European countries where the constant increase in the demand of welfare services has reached the limit of financial capability even in welfare countries.

Read the edited version in Estonian by Tiina Kangro: 

English Helpific independent life Intelligent Community sharing economy social inclusion volunteer welfare

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