On 24 February I attended a seminar in Palazzo Valentini, Provincia di Roma, organised by CeSPI (Centro Studi di Politica Internazionale) about Migration, Development and Welfare, the External Border of Social Policies. The aim of the seminar was that of enlarging and strengthening networks of associations, NGOs, and other social sector actors to achieve better transnational social protection for everyone, migrants and non-migrants workers.
Participants and speakers came from different parts of the world and from a variety of institutions and associations, tackling the problem of social services from different perspectives: the INMP – San Gallicano, Rome, deals with migrant health problems and cultural differences; DIAGNE is the Association of Senegalese people living in Bergamo and the European Commission Development Commission that studies the social aspects of migration and development, among many others.
There were some very interesting contributions concerning social policies and the major financial cuts suffered by the welfare and social security system in Italy, that in some cases – as in the greater Rome area – are greater than 70 percent, making it almost impossible to provide services to the needy in general, not only to migrants.
Governments and the public sector in general cannot expect the care of the elderly to be the private responsibility of the family of the elderly person and the (migrant or not) domestic worker. This is not fair in general already, but it will become impossible soon with a new generation of elderly who cannot count on a family network to take care of them and to organise work permits, social security contributions, working hours and negotiate contracts for them with a care worker. Care is a very important issue and it will become more so in the future. It is beginning to be a problem also in those countries from where many carers used to come from(like Ukraine, for instance). Who provides care for the elderly back home? And who will take care of carers themselves in their old age, particularly when they had no formal employment in the receiving country?
The above considerations should make us reflect on how to defend the welfare and social protection networks for nationals and migrants. We should change mental attitudes and be able to see ourselves (associations, NGOs, unions and other social sector actors) as the “social rights’ field networks” and do lobby-advocacy work to defend social rights for all from this perspective. In a globalised world we cannot afford to think and act within a local framework. We should think in terms of trans-nationality, people’s potential and competencies, and the portability of skills and benefits. Portability should also include pension schemes and other social rights, that should become automatically transnational and possibly universal (at least in Europe where all countries have pension schemes, but portability agreements exist only between some countries; it may be more of a challenge in other parts of the world). It is a technical problem/challenge but also a fundamental social issue. Social policies (international, European and national) should be innovative and bold to favour and adapt to geographical mobility, because this is our reality already. They should take into account the fact that both nationals and migrants move to different geographical areas and that they may do so more than once, either going back to where they came from or moving to a third place. In an internationalised world, social policies should be internationalised as well to best serve locals and migrants and be sustainable for both receiving countries and countries of origin. This way we would also favour legal work, versus informal work without payments of contributions to the social security systems, as every worker would see the usefulness and importance of payments being made. In Italy the social services have apparently saved a couple of million Euros by leaving the care of the elderly in the hands of direct agreements and money spending between families and care workers. On the other hand so many care workers were – and still are – employed informally that the social security system has lost important financial resources. It is evident that such a contradictory system is really not sustainable .
Another aspect that was tackled and that I found interesting is training and the portability of skills of migrant domestic workers and carers. As in general it is not possible to make a career out of taking care of the elderly and their homes, it is desirable to transform it into an experience abroad, where a person learns a language and is exposed to a different culture and way of thinking, while learning new skills as an investment for having better employment opportunities when they return to their home countries. A bit like students with the Erasmus project in Europe.
Associations, NGOs and other organisations in the social sector can play a very important role in promoting transnational social policies by creating transnational social networks, based on the good practices that already exist and that should be further studied and developed.
As a personal consideration, I want to add here that I am very grateful to have the opportunity to attend such events that take place in Italy which have an international dimension. It helps keep my view on migration issues open and makes me more flexible and understanding of different situations and their implications.