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
Social Scaffolding: The progressive response to inequalities

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

Related Topics

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Go to the profile of Beth Walter Honadle
almost 2 years 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
over 1 year ago

thanks for sharing a beautiful and informative blog.