“We have to change the way we do politics in order to face the challenges ahead”

Interview with Francina Alsina, president of the Third Social Sector Organisations Board of Catalonia

12/07/2022 - 13:02 h - Social services Ajuntament de Barcelona

The Third Social Sector Organisations Board of Catalonia, which represents 35 federations, bringing together a total of 3,000 social organisations in Catalonia, is a third-level organisation that reinforces the third sector and defends social rights. On the occasion of the 7th Congress of the Social Third Sector of Catalonia, we interview its president, Francina Alsina, who explains how the Board aims to achieve a fairer, more inclusive, equitable and cohesive society.

What would you highlight from the 7th Congress of the Social Third Sector of Catalonia, held in June?

The most important thing during the congress was to see the importance of acting as one, of all of us working together. Because when we join the forces of all the social stakeholders involved – like the administration or the organisations, universities, neighbourhood movements, that is when we get results. The congress slogan was The reconstruction of the Third Sector. It has become clear to us that we can only achieve this reconstruction if we all join forces and work together.

Moreover, one of the things we have learned is that the recipe for reconstruction cannot be the usual one. We are amidst a situation that has become entrenched, and we can see that the usual policies don’t work. Therefore, we have to reinvent ourselves and change the way we do politics, in order to face the challenges ahead of us.

What do you mean by “an entrenched situation”?

Poverty. The IDESCAT data show that the poverty index is at 26%, and it isn’t dropping. We are seeing results that are a product of the measures employed to try to stop immediate impacts. But they are temporary measures. When they no longer exist, what will happen if we don’t solve the fundamental problems? They haven’t been solved; they are still here.

We are still being affected by poverty. We came out of the crisis of 2008 and got caught by the pandemic when we hadn’t fully recovered. During the pandemic, there were a million more people in a situation of poverty. And then we got caught by the war in Ukraine.

How can we reverse this situation?

We have to change the way we do politics. We have to do real politics. Policies that are courageous. Get to the root of the problem. We all know what the root of the problem is: a lack of decent, affordable housing. There is a lack of high-quality jobs. There is also a lack of well-paid jobs. This phenomenon of poor workers cannot be maintained.

While we are unable to find solutions to these three cornerstones, we will continue to have this pocket of poverty. That’s why we are affirming that we need to do politics, not doing a bit here and there as we have done with these provisional measures. The type of politics we have had up to now are policies that have become very stagnant; without any innovation. We lack a decent budget.

The welfare state is education and health, but it is also the social sector. But when it comes to making social budgets, it is always the poor relative. What we are asking is that social budgets should be taken into account and placed at the same level.

As a community, how should we prepare for forthcoming crises?

The most essential thing is to shore up these three cornerstones I was talking about: that everyone should have a home, a decent home; everyone should have a decent job, which lets them make ends meet, and for those that can’t, a guaranteed minimum income. If we ensure those three cornerstones, we can overcome the next crisis.

When the pandemic broke out, 30% of the people assisted by our social organisations had never needed social aid before. That is terrible. What were you saying? That people were living hand to mouth, in any way possible. And then people lost their source of income, because they were doing insecure jobs, or because they were working in care, or for whatever reason. People who would never have considered, would never have entered a social organisation, were forced to do so. Before a month had passed, our social organisations were having to help people to pay the rent on their homes! What kind of situation are you saying they were in? Total insecurity. People were not in a stable situation. They didn’t have a safety net. They were living hand to mouth.

And what can we do to prevent another crisis, rather than just tackling it?

We have already seen that the current capitalist model led us straight to the crisis. Therefore, we strongly believe in everything to do with the Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE). That is changing the traditional capitalist model for one which centres on people, and focuses on people’s welfare. If the fabric of the Social and Solidarity Economy were reinforced, we would certainly be able to develop a very different economic and social model that would give people security.

We would have much more democratic systems of governance. Then there is also the environmental commitment… All of that leads to a paradigm shift. And one of the things that we like is that all the organisations involved share the same DNA. Because we are all seeking the common good. We are not seeking profit.

Are there any examples of policies that are already on that path?

I would say Barcelona City Council has moved the quickest, in terms of the situation we were in during the pandemic. They were very agile when they needed to respond. One of the first things they developed was the  Pact for Barcelona, a social and economic reactivation measure that included all the stakeholders in society, because we were all involved. And it made recovery its main goal. The trade unions, all the third social sector, universities, business, etc. have all been involved in it.  That really was a truly participative process.

We also think that the  #ESSBCN2030 strategy is very important. These are not ethereal proposals, but rather very down to earth policies, and moreover, they have been coordinated collectively. Furthermore, they have also implemented very specific policies or actions in Barcelona’s neighbourhoods. At a city level, the Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE) organisations are deeply rooted in the city’s neighbourhoods. These are organisations that came out of community movements in those Barcelona neighbourhoods and are transforming the economic model at a grass-roots level.

If we strengthen all of that, and the City Council is doing so, together with the Social Economy Association of Catalonia (AESCAT), we also promote a change of model.

In addition to its territorial commitment, what else can the #ESSBCN2030 strategy provide?

One of the elements that the strategy aims to improve is, for example, to promote social procurement reserved for social or SSE organisations. And these social clauses are being promoted inside the City Council itself. What we are doing is to bring all of this work together, so that the presence of SSE in Barcelona is multiplied.

 What other steps do you want to establish in terms of working with administrations and working internally via networking among the Board’s organisations?

We are continuing to denounce everything that isn’t working properly, and we tell the administration what we need. And we offer solutions, for housing and subsidies, for example. The funding system for Third Sector organisations doesn’t work. For this reason, we are promoting the Third Sector Act, which has already entered Parliament as a draft bill. We demand stability and for the Third Social Sector to be recognised as a public service.

We are non-profit organisations, working for the general public. We are doing this for the common good; we are providing a public service. Furthermore, it has become very clear that, during the pandemic, social organisations were incredibly agile in restructuring themselves and helping people at all times. More than one organisation was reinvented, so they could provide a service and not leave anyone without assistance.

What will this Third Sector Act mean?

It should be noted that Catalonia is one of the few Spanish communities that is still without a Third Social Sector Act. In the end, without a law, you can’t demand a place in the process of designing, implementing and evaluating social policies. When you have a law that shields and recognises you, we will be better able to demand a place in these processes.

And lastly, what message would you like to share?

We are in danger of being at the tail-end of social recovery, because our figures are the worst in the whole of Spain. In order to overcome this crisis, we need to invest where it is necessary, we need to consolidate people’s welfare, ensuring the three cornerstones, and work together with the Government as the public service that we are.