Social Scaffolding: The progressive response to inequalities

Local people building Castellers, part of the traditional Festival La Mercè in Barcelona, Spain, September 1999. Banner image: Shutterstock/RnDms

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This article is part of a series in which OECD experts and thought leaders — from around the world and all parts of society — address the COVID-19 crisis, discussing and developing solutions now and for the future. Aiming to foster the fruitful exchange of expertise and perspectives across fields to help us rise to this critical challenge, opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the OECD.

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There is no need to reach the end of this adventure to realise that we must redefine the post-pandemic era’s narratives. An era that has shown our need for the state’s social protection sector, but one with a modern mind-set and forged on the anvil of the reality. A reality that must address its productivity rate, calling for more “effectiveness” and “integrity”.

A 2011 OECD review on Greece’s sustainable recovery policies highlighted the importance of productivity per person and hours worked but, according to a 2020 Eurostat review, it scores low on both. Conversely, 2018 research from The Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP) recommended that decision- and law-makers separate administrative functions and political supervision. Yet, in its World Employment and Social Outlook - Trends 2020, the ILO suggests both groups do not approach social inequalities as a natural phenomenon, but instead use “social scaffolding” to mitigate them. Scaffolding that will reach those in need, in terms of the empathy and concern that our current times require.

Read more on the Forum Network: "Worried about your job, finances and the future? You're not alone" by Valerie Frey, Directorate for Employment, Labour and Social Affairs, OECD

A couple of months ago, the OECD’s Risks that Matter 2020: The long reach of COVID-19 report sounded the alarm: Greeks are among the most concerned about not being able to pay their expenses and make ends meet. This was coupled with a considerable number of respondents (27.5%) reporting that they could not afford regular costs since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak. This plays out in Eurostat findings on those at risk of poverty or social exclusion in the EU, in which Greece is the third highest (30%); regarding the share of people unable to deal with unexpected financial challenges, the country lies above the EU average rate of 32% as the third-worst overall. Poverty rates remain high among the young, and they further revealed their concerns regarding the social protection system’s intergenerational fairness in the OECD’s 2020 Economic Survey for Greece. Moreover, a recent Hellenic Federation of Enterprises report using OECD data outlined current domestic economic inequalities: the median average income of the population’s top 20% earns 5.51 times more compared to that of the bottom 20%, while 55.4% considers itself as economically vulnerable and a 12.9% finds itself below the poverty line.

Additionally, recently published National Statistical Authority’s data report that the bottom quintile of households in terms of income spent 54.9% of their budget on food and housing, whereas the top spent only 24.6%. COVID-19 has also exposed our societies’ psychosocial vulnerability, according to both Eurofound’s and the OECD’s findings on life satisfaction and mental health. Taken together, these factors show the need for targeted state interventions focused on minimum income support and increased social protection, both being considered top priorities by Greeks following an EU Commission report.

Read the report "Risks that matter 2020: The long reach of COVID-19" and visit the OECD's COVID-19 Hub to browse hundreds of policy responses

Visit the OECD's COVID-19 Hub

The response to all these challenges—and consequently the social scaffolding being developed—must be to create narratives by exploring strategies that, even before the pandemic, only cautiously tackled inequalities. Something that needs to be considered is the historic opportunity offered by the EU’s NextGeneration fund. The fund’s power stems from a collective political maturity and insightfulness, assessing and analysing developments at both central and regional levels to promote a gradually radical and visionary approach to the social state’s modern architecture.

This architecture must be grounded in substantial strategic planning, and not merely distribute funds ineffectively among the parallel worlds of specific regions. Social scaffolding that will have contact points for citizens, and further invest in human-centered fields of study working to diagnose and heal our social ills. Social scaffolding that deserves to be planned and implemented using collective and co-ordinated knowledge, and where decision-makers will listen to personal experiences. Not only to approach what seems feasible, but to broaden it.

Find out more about the EU's NextGeneration fund, the temporary instrument designed to boost Europe's recovery

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Tackling COVID-19 New Societal Contract Income inequality

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Theodoros P. Dimopoulos

Scientific Associate - Ph.D. Candidate, Hellenic Parliament - University of Thessaly

Till January 2015, I have worked as a Social Worker at the National Health Operations Center, Greek Ministry of Health. In 2014 I have accomplished my MSc studies in Health Economics & Management. At the moment I'm enrolling my Ph.D on Thermal, Wellness Tourism and Rehabilitation aspiring to elaborate on the barriers and perspectives regarding the relevant industry in Fthiotida Regional Unity. 

Prior to that I have worked as a Social Worker at the European Cultural & Research Center of Athens in collaboration with Municipalities of Zografos and Kessariani, while in the past I have worked either as a Social Worker, or as an Administrative officer in several private Healthcare Units/Long term care units, such as Polyclinic Group, etc.

As of 2012 and according to a Ministerial mandate I was appointed as a Board Member of Interconnected General Hospitals of Lamia - Amfissa - Karpenisi, keeping this position for approximately one and a half year.

As of October 2016 till November 2019 I have been appointed by the Minister of Labor, Social Insurance & Social Solidarity as the Head of the Board of Directors at the Social Welfare Center of the Region of Central Greece (Public Law Legal Entity - Governmental Organisation) which is the main regional-level social care provision services cluster, trying to contribute to the implementation of the Greek Government's strategic plan on social care, foster care, "DI", family care and people with special needs protection.

In parrallel, between the the same period I have been an Alternate Member of the Board of Directors of the first National Adoption & Foster-care Council in accordance to the relevant Ministerial Desicion.

I have also been an elected Member of the BoD at the Hellenic Healthcare Services Association, carrying duties of the Chief Communications Officer, while as of 2017 I am a Member of the European Commission’s SCHEER Committee on Rapid Risk Assessment of Healthcare and Environmental Risks, participating in annual external experts' meetings with focus on public health risks assessment.

Finally, my current professional capacity is linked to the Hellenic Parliament's function, as I'm an MP's Scientific Associate, providing assistance regarding daily institutional obligations, parliamentary control and other activities, while at the same time I'm a Member of the Opposition Party's Social Care & Solidarity Department, due to my experience derived from my tenure in office as a former Head of the BoD at the Social Welfare Center, Central Greece Region, Ministry of Labor & Social Affairs. 


Go to the profile of Beth Walter Honadle
6 months ago

In our conversation about equity, we need to discuss solutions to exporting pollution to other countries in the name of going green. The most disadvantaged groups are paying the price of other groups having a cleaner environment.

Go to the profile of Radhika Kapoor
4 months ago

thanks for sharing a beautiful and informative blog.