Vulnerability is a state of difficulty described by one`s inability to fend for oneself, to protect oneself against exploitation or other serious danger. An individual might not be intrinsically vulnerable, but become vulnerable due to social factors such as poverty, inadequate housing, lack of, or low quality services, or other social, family, legal disadvantages or power inequalities. Vulnerability of groups is defined by dimensions of poverty, ethnicity, age, gender, mental and other health problems and other variables (Rogers, 2004). The risk or vulnerability status can be anticipated and/or prevented; when such actions are not taken, disadvantages can be limited or overcome through social inclusion of individuals, by the activation of individual resources and coping strategies and by promoting solutions in order to reduce the period of time the individual is affected by risk factors.
Social policies are responses of states, central or local authorities to social problems of communities and groups exposed to social vulnerabilities. They represent the conscious intervention of states to redistribute the resources of citizens in order to assure social welfare. Referring to social policies, the majority of the authors refer to the maintenance of income (often identified with social security, covering both health insurance and social assistance), health care and education, although the latest is sometimes excluded, due to aspects that are beyond social policies (Marshall, 1965, 7, Titmuss, 1974, 23-32, Kauffman, 1990, 19, Hill, 1997, Baldock, Manning, Vickerstaff, S, 2003, 4-7, Popescu, 1998). Intervention measures that reduce social vulnerability are on the one hand part of the national insurance systems and on the other hand part of the national social assistance system. If we look on the recommendations of the EU concerning the social protection and social inclusion, we can see that EU encourages national governments to reform their social welfare systems in order to tackle the challenges posed by demographic change, and to combat poverty and social exclusion . In fact, the strategy of EU is to identify what policies work best in the field of reducing poverty and social exclusion, maintain and extend pensions, health – and social care for vulnerable citizens.
The articles included in this issue propose to the readers a rich variety of methodological, theoretical and practical approaches that explore the multidimensional relationships between social policy, social work and vulnerability in Romania and in a range of other European countries. The articles allow the readers to evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of different social protection strategies, to raise awareness of the cultural differences that might interfere while tackling vulnerable groups, and to present the role of social work in fighting against social exclusion.
In her article, Eva Mitchell analyses the tax-benefit system for families with children in several East-European countries. Seven post–communist countries are compared based on a highly elaborate methodology. The analysis is carried out objectively and professionally, making use of comparison in a larger Western European context.
The article What is family policy today, by Wolfgang Berg, brings the discussion around the poverty risk, the children’s right to equal education, professional qualification and a harmonious development despite the family’s financial possibilities. It states the necessity to differentiate between population policy and family policy, which implies children having equal learning opportunities, despite their cultural and family background. The article discusses family social policies in Germany from the perspective of women’s employment, birth rate, educational attainment and equal opportunities. The article brings new ideas regarding the value of social benefits for poor and middle class families, as well as for the stimulation of educational opportunities.
The current trends in the labor market regarding the rehabilitation policy are reviewed in the article Integrated employment and rehabilitation services: new evidence from Hungary, by Ágota Scharle. The author insightfully and competently investigates the social policy instruments applied for enhancing the participation of people with disabilities in paid employment in present-day Hungary. The conclusion is that redesigning the system of subsidies could improve the employment prospects for disabled people in Hungary. The full integration of disabled people still requires further reform, a reduction of employment subsidies, an expansion of rehabilitation services and better designed incentives for all involved.
Based on an original research methodology and by relevant statistical data, Miquel Lappara and Begona Perez give an illustrative model of the impact of the Spanish economic crisis. The article presents the results of a study conducted in 2007 and replicated on the same population in 2009, investigating the first impact of the crisis. Today, the most optimistic forecasts indicate a slow recovery of the workforce in the coming years, and restrictive policies could affect the mechanisms of redistribution and social protection. The article identifies and illustrates statistically different forms of social exclusion (from integration to severe exclusion). Finally, households are in an unstable balance, and the „liquid model” illustrates the efforts of households/families/population’s to keep afloat. The crisis has revealed the failure of the Spanish social protection system. The authors state that Spain could serve as a reference for the EU. They propose to avoid some issues in Europe Strategy 2020 and they come forward with a more comprehensive model of social integration through protection, security, active measures and responsibility.
Modern social policy is closely linked to the development of social work. Gabor Hegyesi, Katalin Talyigas and Orsolya Fekete manage to describe important and relevant social issues from Hungary, but which apply to other European countries as well. In this sense, they describe the main changes in social policies in the last two decades. They focus on economic problems, governmental fiscal problems and the possible legitimacy crisis, which might appear due to the loyalty deficit in the government. The authors bring up the most important reform-ideas, but also introduce the major criticisms towards them. The authors believe that when it comes to the European Community, it is necessary to develop programs, which can set up minimum standards of services for children, for the elderly and for people with disabilities. The authors address the highly relevant topic of the role of social work in ensuring the social rights of individuals, and analyze the particular articulations of this problem in the case of Hungary, looking at the socialist legacies of the country, the influence of the European Open Method of Coordination (OMC), and the current political situation of neo-conservative revival, economic crisis and state-retrenchment from welfare.
Karen Lyons and Sue Hanna analyze the international labor mobility in the field of social work, an interesting topic for many social workers. Great Britain’s case is presented throughout a seven year period of analysis (between 2005 and 2011, including). It gives the possibility to follow the dynamics of the mobility of professionals in the context of political, social and economic changes in Europe, referring to facts interestingly interpreted by the article. The arguments of the authors explain the observed dynamics in line with the labor mobility theories (mentioned in the paper) and with the historical events in Europe (ex. accession of new states in the European Union).
The concept of vulnerability is often associated with marginalization and social exclusion, leading to dependence. When talking about the approach of the Romanian government towards the Roma issue we have to face the fact that it has not significantly changed in the past decade. The Roma population was considered a social problem and the measures taken into consideration were associated to poverty alleviation. Just recently, the attention was switched to the concept of social inclusion. The article signed by Florin Moisa, focuses on the social problems regarding Roma and the fact that they are perceived as a single group, instead of being seen as a diversity of families/clans. Another important part of the article is dedicated to the discussion of public policies for Roma in Romania. In the beginning of the millennium, the public policies concerning the Roma population were referring to the issue of antidiscrimination. After it faced resistance, the attention was moved to other concepts, like social inclusion and modernization of Roma communities. Hopefully, the strategy in force will be more successful and will become a real public policy document. The vulnerability of the Roma population is also approached by Florina Pop, which assesses the effects of social protection through minimum income on the Roma population, in rural areas. She presents an exploratory study, based on a capability approach, carried out in three counties in the northwestern region of Romania. One of the conclusions reached by the author is that active protection measures accompanying the MIG are not identified as a social conversion by rural Roma beneficiaries.
Diana Gabor’s article examines how practice reflects the policies regarding protected units for the social integration of persons with disabilities. The domain of disability largely benefits from such a sincere approach that critically looks at the difficulties of the social inclusion of people with disabilities. One of the conclusions of the authors is that besides the interest of employers in the law that guarantees benefits for employing disabled persons, there is no real inclusion of this category of disadvantaged people.
Nowadays, due to the continuous increase in life expectancy, a significant part of adult life is described by the retirement status, which triggers many discussions about the future sustainability of the public pension systems. In this context, the study of Vasile Ghetau proposes an assessment on the evolution of the number of Romanian pensioners, in the period 2010-2030, by sex and age. Moreover, the author emphasizes the past and future effects of the birth rate variations on the number of pensioners. Also targeting the vulnerabilities of the elderly, Daniela Şoitu and Adina Rebeleanu analyzed in their article, the Romanian socio-medical current legislation and the ways it can increase the vulnerability of the elderly. The authors draw attention to the importance of consistency throughout different social areas, in this case the field of social work and the health system in order to protect the elderly, in the context of frequent legal changes in this area.
The article signed by Maria Stoleru, Narcisa Radu, Imola Antal and Iulia Szigeti provides a new perspective on the criminal justice system, combining the concepts of single family and parenthood with that of financial well-being. Starting from the reality of a justice system that deals in a fragmented way with a range of issues faced by single parent families, the authors offer some suggestions on how the criminal justice system can be merged with the civil justice system in order to assure an integrative approach in the case of domestic violence and consecutive family separation.
Vulnerability of juveniles and young adults who commit crimes and end up serving custodial sentences is brought to the attention of the readers by Sorina Poledna, Cristina Andreica and Adela Gusan. Presenting a research carried out in Targu Mures Penitentiary, the authors discuss social vulnerability of minors and youth behind bars by using the term "social space of criminal vulnerability".
Besides providing social services, it is also important for social workers to ensure the quality of social services for vulnerable populations. This is analyzed by Lorena Ianas and Maria Roth, for the social services of Timis County, who look at the effects of the legal framework that requires accreditation of social services, but also to a large range of documents and interviews with managers of social services. They discuss inequalities between rural and urban areas, as well as between services for different vulnerable groups.
Programs for adolescents at high risk for HIV infection are reviewed by Doru Buzducea and Florin Lazar. The research is based on a complex methodology, proving the usefulness and relevance of the MARA project. The conclusions of the authors highlight the need for sustainability in replication of the discussed project. They advocate for creating public-private partnerships, and the insurance of state financial support, as well as a careful selection and training of staff. In other words, the authors plead for the quality assurance of services for the vulnerable group at high risk for HIV infection and for their sustained support at higher governmental level.
The articles in this issue bring evidence to the complexity of the processes by which social policies are designed, adopted and changed. Based on them, more precise evaluation is needed for poverty, delinquency, unemployment, health problems, discrimination of the Roma etc. Designing coherent social policies to respond to the needs of vulnerable groups starts by comprehensive assessment methodologies for social problems and their dynamics. It continues with quality services, spread all along the areas with socially vulnerable groups. Social inclusion will improve when governors will invest more in the planning and the application of social policies, in all its forms, for all vulnerable groups, and will base their political decisions on research as published in the present Social Work review.
As Lappara and Perez say, “Surfing may be fun, but if you want to stay on top, it is better to stroll along the beach”.
Baldock, J., Manning, N. and Vickerstaff, S (eds.) (2003) Social Policy, Oxford University Press.
Rogers, W.A. (2004) „Evidence based medicine and justice: a framework for looking at the impact of EBM upon vulnerable or disadvantaged groups”, Journal of Medical Ethics, Apr; 30, 2, 141-5.
Hill, M. (2000) Understanding Social Policy, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd.
Kaufmann, F.X. (1990) „Les development des Etas-providence en Europe”, Revue francaise des affaires sociales, 3, 15-25.
Marshall, T.H. (1965) Social Policy, London: Hutchinson.
Popescu, L. (1998) Protecţia socială în Uniunea Europeană [Social Protection in European Union], Cluj-Napoca: Presa Universitara Clujeana.
Titmuss, R.M. (1974) Social Policy. An Introduction, London: Allen&Unwin.