4th Congress of Social Work - Brdo 2010

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EU2010 The 4th Congress of Social Work will take place in April 2010, the year proclaimed as the European Year of Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion by the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union. In the official explanation of the decision on the proclamation, 79 million people (16% of the EU population) were reported as living below the poverty line in 2008 (prior to the recession), a fact that poses a serious threat to the EU commitment to the three basic principles of the welfare state: equality, solidarity and social justice. That is why the 2010 European Year of Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion will be based on the following beliefs:

  • All people have the right to personal dignity and active participation in society.


  • Private and public sectors shall share responsibility for combating poverty and social exclusion (rather than only the public sector being responsible).


  • The abolition of poverty as a condition for a more cohesive society for the benefit of all.


  • All levels of society shall commit themselves to successfully achieving this goal.

Although, the meanings of the concepts of poverty and social exclusion are clearly not identical, they do tend to overlap. While social exclusion does not always lead to poverty, the latter as a rule leads to social exclusion, that is exclusion from social participation. Exclusion from social participation is a complex phenomenon encompassing different causes of exclusion, different dynamics of its process, its different effects and levels. The concept of social exclusion was created at the end of the 1970s to define groups of people who had fallen through the cracks of social protection. Later the concept was expanded to include other groups excluded from social participation at all levels of the state and society. At the EU level the concept started to be used in the early 1990s because the EU considered it to be broad enough to define groups of people with various political beliefs, and to allow for various levels of action against it (including the recognition that exclusions can accumulate, support for the active orientation of social work and other services etc. towards different vulnerable groups). In this sense, the concept is non-political by attempting to encompass all people and allowing for different contents which tend to become distanced from the responsibility of the state which often does not recognise the phenomenon of poverty as a structural problem, the problem of growing social inequalities and the problem of the crumbling welfare state.

However, having accepted social exclusion as a concept enables a commitment to removing the obstacles to greater cohesion at the level of the EU which consists of countries with a diversity of traditions, policies, beliefs and different levels of accountability for people's well-being. All these countries have been interconnected by the social exclusion concept and by each of them a national action plan for combating poverty and social exclusion is being drawn through an open co-ordination method of work. Slovenia joined this process in the late 1990s and, since having become a full EU member, it has already caught up with the old member states in terms of planning. Slovenia is one of the countries which reports a level of poverty below the EU average, although a growing poverty rate is perceived in the current economic crisis. The lack of research into the effects of changes to legislation regulating the right to access public resources (social protection, health care, education) in turn results in a lack of information on the people involved (gender, social status, group membership – all with observing personal data protection provisions), who are prevented from asserting their rights due to legislative changes which, in addition, do not enable the correction of any mistakes caused by these changes. This also makes it impossible to identify any potential greater inclusion.

Slovenia reports several social groups which could be considered socially excluded. Different sources identify the following groups: the elderly with a low pension, especially single elderly women; the young before they join the labour market; the unemployed; the tenants (of profit and non-profit housing); single middle-aged men, single mothers with one or more children; homeless people and people without documents (the erased or illegal migrants); ethnic groups, economic migrants, the handicapped and homosexuals. Some of these groups are excluded due to a lack of material resources influencing their social status, while others are excluded due to discrimination and dehumanisation which makes them vulnerable to humiliation, exclusion and exploitation. The subject offers numerous scientific and expert studies, supported by research findings, examples and case histories. Exclusion leads to lower social participation or a lack of it resulting in a democratic deficit which is harmful for states because it reduces the level of their cohesion. In order to avoid the trap of poverty and social exclusion, which among other things lies in the residual conceptualisation of these concepts (their concentration on groups finding themselves on the poverty line or below it) rather than a relational (structural) conceptualisation, power relations will be considered with regard to these concepts and their influence on the phenomena of poverty and exclusion will be examined. In this way, the concept will be politicised rather than individualised.
The central question for the Congress will be how in its practice and theory social work fights poverty and social exclusion, how it detects them, their effects and consequences which take place at different levels:

  • At the level of everyday life (access to services, living conditions, active participation in finding solutions to one's own problems, possibilities to create own life projects etc.).


  • At the level of the social work profession (how to face the growing phenomena of managerialism, administrativism, bureaucratism, how to apply social work knowledge, skills, methods and doctrines in these circumstances, the management of ethics and one's own attitude to social problems and policies in this field, how to plan programmes and adequate help based on user needs. In addition, how to see and seize opportunities. On one hand, how to regulate standards offered by the profession while, on the other, face either limitations or possibilities offered by different policies in social protection, education, health care and elsewhere).


  • At the level of social policy (identify changes in conceptualisation of the welfare state, how its system has been changing, are social policies consistent and based on facts, research or expert initiatives and analyses, or are they momentary, political and compliant with globalisation processes).


  • At the level of wider integrations (European and beyond, where social work faces similar problems and opportunities).

The 2010 Congress theme holds vital importance for social work since research and scientific action in the area of poverty and social exclusion are largely inter-related, whereas social work practice takes place in state-planned conditions. Fields influencing a reduction or escalation of poverty and social inclusion (or exclusion) are regulated by social and other policies (educational, health care, housing etc.) which simultaneously influence the opportunities and limitations of those implementing services, programmes and projects in fields where social workers are most often employed. Social work as a science and a profession can largely contribute to a reduction of poverty and increase of social inclusion by being essentially committed to action based on the principles of equality, social justice and solidarity. How to make this happen is a complex question which will be brought to the fore at the 4th Congress of Social Work in the 2010 European Year of Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion.

The Congress will take place over three days and be divided into the plenary part and the working groups part which will be organised according to the following five major congress themes.