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Publicly provided in-kind social services are a key component of the welfare state in most of Europe, albeit their development trajectories, coverage and legal status still vary considerably among countries. The way such services are provided and made available to people bears significantly on social and territorial cohesion, on the gender balance and, ultimately, on the wealth of any society. On the other hand, while much is discussed and written about social policy and welfare systems, social services are somewhat neglected. Although they have progressively gained a stronger foothold in national legislations and social policy agendas, their status remains weaker compared to health or education services. Moreover, because of the austerity measures brought about by the 2008 financial crisis, they have been the primary object of cuts and reorganisation. And yet, from a social capital and social investment perspective social services should earn much more attention. Cuts in the social service systems have, in fact, very severe consequences on older people and people with disabilities, as well as on households – women – with small children or living in poverty, i.e. on people whose labour market position is weak. The public provision of in-kind services, more than monetary transfers and benefits, represents a social investment that not only generates welfare, social inclusion and jobs, but also reduces future social risks. The theoretical debate on social policy and welfare states needs thus to be enriched by comparatively informed research on the restructuring of social services. This is also a field where national, regional and local variations are large and greater empirical evidence is needed.

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