CESI and the EPC hold expert workshop on measuring the efficiency of social investments

12 Oct 2015

On Friday, October 9, CESI together with the European Policy Centre (EPC) hosted a high-level workshop on measuring social investments. As a trade union confederation which, representing several million public sector workers, has been calling for a long time to end austerity and invest more in the public services again, the workshop was an important opportunity for CESI to push the discourse on the importance of social investments as a preventive long-term buffer of resilience and cohesion against economic (or other) shocks to societies.

CESI and the EPC hold expert workshop on measuring the efficiency of social investments

The workshop, fully titled “Measuring the efficiency and effectiveness of social investment policies and designing the right policy mix” and held under Chatham House rules, featured interventions by a number of high-level former national and EU-level decision-makers, academic scholars (economists, social scientists), and representatives from civil society organisations and social NGOs. EU Secretary general Klaus Heeger delivered the introductory and closing remarks.

Presentations and discussions were held on the following topics:
• The state of play and challenges ahead for the measurement of social investment efficiency and effectiveness;
• Investments in the education of Roma people, early childhood, and social innovation;
• Spending reviews in the social sector; and
• The achievement of the right policy mix for social investments.

Social investments as social policy with a productive factor?

During the debate, a set of key questions was quickly identified: Can social investments be regarded as social policy with a productive factor at all? Can and should there be a debate with economists about the return on social investments in terms of economic concepts like GDP growth? Or should other indicators such as well-being be taken as a reference, which are not purely about monetisation? Different speakers headed for the second option, saying that, for instance: “Social policy as a productive factor is tricky”, “You will not make an argument based on the economists’ concept of pareto efficiency, this is not be possible”, “Monetising is not right way to go about measuring social investment impacts” or “Looking at short-term quarterly costs efficiency like companies listed on the stock exchange is not the right way forward.”

The difficulty to measure the impacts of social investments

In this context, several speakers emphasised the difficulty to measure the impacts of social investments in concrete numerical or economic terms as an important reason for the difficulty to rally more political support for them. As one speaker put it, “the causal attribution of social investments is difficult to establish. There is a temporal uncertainty about the future payoff in growth, employment and poverty mitigation.” The speaker added that “social investments is a new kid on the block”, meaning that there is still a lack of data on the impact of social investment on which policies can be based.

Social investments as undisputed elements for a resilient society

Importantly, the speakers said this in the context of an overall agreement that social investments are vital for the functioning of societies at large and in the long-term – even if they appear to be a financial burden in the short-term. Statements such as “Social investments are like an insurance: In the short run, you have a cost, but in the long run you are stronger and more resilient” were backed-up by findings from Scandinavian countries, where evidence was found that considerable, sustained efforts in the past in the field of social investments are clearly paying off. This led a speaker of a social NGO to conclude: “Not spending on social issues has a huge cost in the long-run. It is necessary to convince more people of this. We have to go to the academics to find about what can be a positive definition of structural reforms as an alternative to austerity”.

Report on social investments forthcoming

This was indeed the aim of the workshop: Against the backdrop of the EU’s 2013 Social investment package, the results of the meeting will be processed into a major report on social investments, synthesising the views of different academics. CESI and the EPC hope that this will contribute to revive and drive the political debate on the importance of social investments as a preventive long-term buffer of resilience and cohesion against economic (or other) shocks to societies. As the CESI Secretary general Klaus Heeger pointed out in his interventions: “Coming out of this project with clear and focussed demands on why the public services and social investments should be strengthened again is of high importance for CESI’s interest representation work on the European semester, the Stability and growth pact and the European economic governance framework at large.”

For a summary report on the workshop on October 9, follow this link.