Modernising Social Services in Spain

Designing a New National Framework

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Social services in Spain are confronted with a series of challenges, including growing demand due to population ageing, changing family models, rising inequality and labour market changes. Services are fragmented and, with multiple providers, lack reliable and comprehensive data. There is also a discontinuity between primary and specialised care. The decentralised model of competences generates complexity in management and financing of services. With the current governance and financing system, there are disparities in the type and quality of social services provided across the 17 Spanish Autonomous Communities and two autonomous cities. In addition, there is a lack of portability of benefits throughout the country. This report suggests ways to improve the legal context, move towards more universal services, strengthen quality, and move towards more evidence-based policies.


Executive summary

Social service provision in Spain is highly decentralised as the Constitution grants the regions (the Autonomous Communities) competencies in this area. The 17 Autonomous Communities all have their respective laws on social services; and while these laws all share some common features, the legal diversity has resulted in wide differences in the organisation of social services. For example, in certain regions the functional structure of social services is divided in two levels (basic and specialised). In other regions, however, it ranges between three to five levels and services provided across the different levels vary across regions. The territorial units for the provision of services vary and social service centres cover 20 times more inhabitants in regions with more demand or population density than in less populated ones. In many cases, the high demand for social services is often met by inadequate human resources in terms of staff ratios and type of professionals. Statutory ratios of staff to inhabitants range between 1 500 to 3 000 or even 4 000 inhabitants, and eight regions do not set minimum ratios at all. The most common professional category in social services are social workers, who tend to constitute 40‑50% of staff, but can represent fewer than 30% in some regions. Similarly, the percentage of psychologists and educational experts can be twice as high in some regions compared to others.


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