In today’s society, there is a significant imbalance in the function of the care of the elderly. While the population ages more and more, the social mechanisms set up to perform the care function of the elderly are unable to meet this demand. Today, the mechanisms correspond to four spheres: the family, the welfare state, the market of private institutions, and the so-called community sphere.
“Why has this imbalance come about?” As Etxezarreta explains, “at a given moment, an option was made in favour of the welfare state to undertake the care of the elderly and today, with the crisis, we can see that these services have not been developed and that the care is reverting to the family sphere.”
The starting point of this thesis is the crisis in the care function. Etxezarreta has analysed two spheres. Firstly, the public services that exist to care for the elderly; considering the social services as a system, he has studied what resources are devoted to this purpose. Secondly, he has analysed the community sphere, which Etxezarreta calls the social economy; “sometimes it is called the tertiary sector, but I prefer to define this sphere through the concept of social economy, because I have set out to study what space is taken up by the social economy in these services.”
The social services are geared towards four types of recipients: the elderly, people with disabilities, people in a situation of social exclusion, and finally, children and their families. “There is no doubt that the most important group is the one comprising the elderly. This is what has led me to choose this group for my thesis. In theory the social trends of this group can be extrapolated to the whole sector.”
Etxezarreta’s thesis has focused on the situation in Gipuzkoa. “The social services are governed by a decentralised system and are run by the provincial councils, and that is why different policies have been applied in Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa and Araba-Alava. I decided to concentrate on Gipuzkoa, because this province has a model of agreement with the tertiary sector. And this approach coincides with the approach of my thesis which maintains that the public sector has used agents from the tertiary sector and from the social economy to offer these services.”
In his thesis, Etxezarreta conducted an empirical analysis. Using statistics provided by EUSTAT (Basque Institute for Statistics) he studied firstly what quantitative importance the tertiary sector (the social economy, in Etxezarreta's words) has within the private and public agents as a whole. EUSTAT produces statistics on the suppliers of social services and analyses which are capitalist private ones, which are public, and which belong to the tertiary sector. In the end, it is a study of the size of the social economy.
Etxezarreta also studied the associations, co-operatives and foundations linked to the social economy. There is no unified register in this sphere so he gathered data on the number of organisations offering services geared towards the elderly. As Etxezarreta himself puts it, he drew up “a kind of map on the social economy”. He also conducted a survey among all these organisations in order to assess the system. Finally, he did a qualitative analysis, and for this purpose had in-depth interviews with a group of 16 experts in the sector. The thesis includes the transcription of these conversations.
This thesis has enabled him to study the possibilities offered by the social economy in the future design of the social services. These possibilities can be studied to anticipate from a more political perspective how the sector will develop. “The healthcare system was designed from a public perspective. Education, by contrast, has been built on a basis of a public network and a subsidised network. And the questions I raise are these: How is the social services sector going to be structured, as it is a sector that has not yet been developed? And is it feasible for the future social services to be structured as a subsidized public system?”
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