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The European Commission has published the final report of a study conducted by Ecorys on the use of electronic vouchers in supporting Europe’s most vulnerable.
The study was a response to the European Social Fund Plus programme (ESF+), which allows Member States - for the first time - to use electronic vouchers (e-vouchers) to give people in or at risk of poverty access to food and basic material goods.
The study aimed to understand how e-vouchers can be implemented in a way that is both effective in delivering support to the most deprived and compatible with the ESF+ regulatory framework. It explores seven vouchers schemes that are already being implemented in five European countries – Belgium, France, Italy, Lithuania and Spain. These schemes are led by a diverse range of actors - including NGOs, public authorities and voucher service providers. The study looks in-depth at the scope, contracting arrangements, design, and operation of these schemes, identifying their benefits and challenges as well as their impact and results on the social inclusion of people receiving the support. The study also provides an assessment of the compatibility of e-vouchers schemes with the ESF+, drawing out aspects of the schemes that are particularly challenging or well-matched to the objectives and regulations of the Fund - such as monitoring and reporting requirements and how expenditure is tracked and reimbursed. The conclusion and recommendations of the study point out the following:
• Involving the right partners from the outset can ensure schemes really reach those that need them. Close collaboration with national, regional, or local social service institutions aids implementing organisations in providing social support measures to recipients alongside e-vouchers.
• Good communication and a clear division of roles and responsibilities from the start are key in effective implementation
• Well thought-out contractual arrangements between actors will be crucial to ensuring that the ESF+ regulatory requirements can be abided by.
• Schemes should be flexible enough to adapt to different situations. Decentralised schemes are helpful in this regard, as they can be implemented locally and adapted to local realities.
• Using existing structures can play a significant role in supporting the efficient roll-out of the scheme.
• Accompanying measures can contribute significantly to increasing social inclusion by helping end recipients to tackle wider problems in their lives.
• Risk of fraud is significantly reduced through electronic vouchers.
• Stigma can be reduced with e-vouchers, but the views of end recipients are key to ensuring that this is the case.
These findings are particularly relevant in the context of the COVID-19 crisis, which has increased the number of vulnerable individuals across the EU, but at the same time limited much needed in-kind food distribution. In response, the EU amended legislation to allow current EU funding to finance voucher schemes. The study provides essential evidence on how voucher schemes are being used and their benefits and challenges in aiding vulnerable groups, to help policymakers ensure that support can reach those most in need in these challenging times.
The final report has been published by the European Commission and is available here