a very warm welcome to one of the cities with the best quality of life, named Vienna.
I am here as a represent of the municipal councelor in this amazing City. I myself am responsible for social policy in my party.
I am really proud the International Federation of Social Workers Conference is gathering here today.
„A social Europe is possible“ is the theme of today’s statements and discussions of practioners and academics in social work together with politicians, members of the European Union administration and the media.
What topic could be more relevant?
What topic could be more challenging for today’s life?
We are in the brink of #Brexit – not really knowing what the british parliament will decide within the next weeks – Maybe even the stakeholders themselves don’t know yet.
Brexit brings me right into the topic of today’s enquete. Recently a British citizen, living in Vienna for almost three decades now, is suffering from a severe cronic disease. And now he is also in fear of loosing all social welfare in Vienna.
This might be only a single cruel fate: but in fact this person might loose medical insurence and social services because some right-winged politicians are driving it too far in London? And with this person a lot of British citizens living here in Vienna or all over Europe are concernd.
Let me first take you back a hundred years. Before World War 1 our beautiful and beloved city was struggling with severe social problems. The severe poverty of the vast majority of the population was dramatic. Especially housing was not affordable to most families. People had to share apartments, rooms and sometimes even beds. The latter were called „Bettgeher“ in German.
We are not talking about a sharing economy, It was simply unaffordable to rent a room for a lot of the working people. It was a brutal economy with an enormous gap between the rich and the poor.
The city needed a solution – social housing. Financed by a new local tax, the so called „Breitner Steuern“, Vienna was able to erect government-funded houses all over the city, for the working class. These apartment-complexes were designed with innovative ideas: not only small apartments with water and sanitation were built, but also terraces for sun bathing. These should help against the vitamin D shortage related sickness „rachitis“, which was very common at that time. Additionally, in every building complex other important social benefits were included. For example a Kindergarten or a public laundry area. The political aim: free education for everyone, made the goverment also open public libraries and Theaters, in these newbuild Apartment houses. The theatre „Rabenhof“ for example, which still exist today. If you want to know more about this time of social innovations in Vienna I really recommend the exhibition . ”Das Rote Wien” at MUSA right here in the neighborhood.
Housing is still one of the largest challenges for communities and social work, in Vienna and all over Europe.
Even though Vienna is well prepared with a huge amount of publicly financed Housing, it is unfortunately not serving everyone. The city of Vienna nearly owns one quarter of all rented apartments all over Vienna. And the construction of another quarter was partly supported by the government. Rents in the city therefore are relatively low, but still there is a problem.
Difficult economic developments in the aftermath of the financial crisis and a growing number of people with mental diseases still cause a lot of homelessness.
Vienna reacted and started, very successfully, an innovative program called „Housing First“ as a service for homeless people. An appartement of their own and a good portion of social workers are helping individuals and families back to a normal daily routine. Only based on professional, understanding and respectful social work this „Housing First“ model works for the people it is aimed at.
Let’s make a side step to the people who still are under pressure in our societies: migrants. In 2015 a lot of refugees came to our European cities and communities. We really managed this situation well in Vienna.
And I am very proud of this. 2015 a large number of volunteers started to help incoming refugees and were quickly supported by social workers. It was amazing how civil society, social workers and the city were cooperating under extreme pressure. Housing, clothing, food, health care, legal assistance, education and nearly everything else was organized hand in hand. Learning from the experiences the city government acts on the basis of „Integration starts on the first day of arrival“ (in German: Integration ab Tag 1)
Yet, migration within Europe is challenging as well. People under financial strain are looking for jobs in Vienna. Sometimes it works, sometimes it does not. Some people from our neighboring countries are coming to Austria due to the political pressure in their home countries. For example, homeless people from Hungary. In Vienna and in many other European capitals, we are challenged to care for these brothers and sisters.
It is difficult since our legal system is not yet prepared – social welfare in the historic dimension – was thought to only care for its own citizens. We are challenged to secure medical services, housing and of cause the right to education to everyone living in Vienna. We need an all European social care system, that caters for the hardships we face, and the live we life today: people change their residences more often, work in more than one country or have to leave because of political issues.
And last but not least, we have to take care for our Children.
Children are our future. Children do have a right to get their best wellbeing. Still children and their families are under strain. Economic pressure is an enemy to a healthy family life. A hundred years ago Vienna set an innovation for poor newborns: every newborn and their mothers received a starting box: with basic clothing, nappers and other necessities, to fight infant mortality.
That’s the time when the political fight for maternity rights started. Today we do have maternity rights, also thanks to european cooperation, but there are other challenges to face: A growing number of single mothers – every 7th family in Austria is a single parent family- are at risk of poverty and also families with three or more children or parents who bring up disabled children are at the same risk.
In 2011 in Vienna we established a „#Kindermindestsicherung“ – the highest allowance for children in social welfare („#Mindestsicherung“) in Austria. It helped include many families to financial benefits. Later on we additionally established support structures to include social work as needed for everyone who receives financial support. Right now because of the right wing government in Austria, this essential intervention to fight poverty of children is in danger.
To conclude, let me say: As experts and practioners in the field of social work, you are the missing link between the government and the vulnerable groups living in our societies. They might not be visible but they might be in need of help. And we as politicians in charge bear the responsibility to lay down the basics for a society who shows solidarity with its weaker and sick members.
Please be so kind and share your experiences!
Please let us develop together a society based on solidarity and peace.
Let us take the opportunity during this conference to point out the changes needing to happen in social work, in the legislation and find out where action needs to be taken.
I wish you a very successful conference and remember: „A social Europe is possible!“