On 6th November 2019, the Social Protection Committee published its Annual Report on the social situation in Europe. The Committee, which consists of representatives of Member States and the Commission, advises the Council for Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs (EPSCO) and provides comprehensive analyses regarding the social security of citizens in Europe.
The report refers to the Europe 2020 Strategy, a programme that includes targets on Europe’s economic development, which was presented in 2010. One objective was to reduce the number of Europeans at risk of poverty or social exclusion (AROPE) by 20 million by 2020. Austria’s target was to diminish the number of Austrians at risk of poverty by 235,000 people. Au European level, it is highly unlikely that this 2020 target will be achieved. According to recent surveys by Eurostat, the number of people affected in 2019 is 109.2 million.
Cautious upward trend
Nevertheless, some progress has been made: the report finds that the social situation in Europe is on the road to recovery and that social security of Europeans after the far-reaching consequences of the 2008 crisis continues to stabilise - even if big differences between Member States remain. The upward trend is in particular due to growing employment figures and the decline in unemployment rates in almost all EU countries. Even the stubbornly persistent youth unemployment figures have improved slightly. The number of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion was reduced by 5 million across Europe in 2017. “Significant progress” has been achieved in combatting severe material deprivation as well as with regard to the reduced number of so-called “(quasi-) jobless households”. Household income has also risen in no less than 17 Member States.
Hardly any improvement for vulnerable groups
However, these positive developments do not reach all people and all Member States. Homelessness and exclusion from the housing market, probably the most extreme form of social exclusion, remained at a constant level in most Member States or even deteriorated. In particular, Ireland and Great Britain have been urged to take action. Austria has been called upon, among other, to improve the housing situation, meaning access to affordable living space.
The situation of people with disability, of ethnic minorities, in particular Roma and people with a migration background has hardly improved. Member States are not able to properly address the discrimination of these groups and to intervene and counteract at an early stage. The cycle of poverty, child poverty and lesser opportunities of the youngest in society, rooted in their social background has not been broken and has been identified as an urgent challenge for Austria, besides gaps in the social security system. The report recommends focusing on high-quality early childhood care as a social policy measure in combination with income-supporting measures.
No paradigm shift in sight
The work of the Social Protection Committee is intended to form a basis for discussion; it also provides a review of the social situation in Europe, based on a wide range of indicators. There is no indication of a turnaround in the policy recipes against poverty und social exclusion: the Committee concludes that active integration in the labour market, combined with income-supporting measures and supporting services are the best solution against fighting poverty. One should also not neglect the phenomenon of “in-work poverty”, hence being poor in spite of having a job. The European Pillar of Social Rights would continue to be an important compass. From the AK’s point of view, European minimum standards could help to yarn a stable Europe-wide net of social security. In order to deepen the discussion on the detailed structuring of European minimum standards, AK EUROPA together with the Brussels liaison offices of the Austrian Trade Union Federation ÖGB and the German Trade Union Confederation (DGB) have invited to an evening event on 14.11.2019.