President. – The next item is the debate on the oral question to the Commission on the EU homelessness strategy, by Pervenche Berès and Karima Delli, on behalf of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (O-000153/2011 – B7-0421/2011).
Karima Delli, author. – (FR) Madam President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, finally, a debate is being held in this House on the situation of homeless people! I should like to begin by paying tribute to all the associations in the community that work all year round to help the most vulnerable people among us, the homeless.
Not having a home to call one’s own is a serious violation of fundamental rights and human dignity. It is the most visible and the saddest link in the chain of poor housing. Above all, it is an unacceptable form of injustice. It is crucial to understand why people end up on the streets, so that proper preventive policies can be put in place. Rather than looking for ways of getting these people off the streets, it is much easier not to plunge them into homelessness in the first place.
When are we going to put a stop to tenant eviction? When are we going to stop property speculation? When will we finally realise that rising poverty and insecurity lead to exclusion?
The face of homelessness has changed; the image of the bohemian down-and-out belongs in the past. The reality today is much more complex and much harsher. It is increasingly young people, women, families – in particular migrants – and even poor workers who are without a home.
There are many types of homelessness. Of course, there are the homeless people that one sees on the floor in the street, in winter, under cardboard boxes, or in tents in public parks, but they are just the tip of the iceberg. Millions of people live in emergency hostels, in temporary housing or with friends or family; they may even sleep in cars or in insalubrious hotels.
Faced with an emergency situation that is becoming worse by the day, the associations are constantly sounding the alarm. However, governments come and go, and the scandalous failure to address the situation continues.
It is high time the Member States faced up to their responsibilities. It is high time we put a stop to this shameful situation. Europe must strive to help the Member States establish fundamental values and long-term solutions to this situation, because our main duty is to protect the weakest among us.
In the light of this unacceptable situation, we cannot continue to look the other way, in the same way as people avoid looking at homeless people on the street. What is worse, homeless people are expelled from town centres to the outskirts, far from the stares of businessmen and tourists. However, just because they are out of sight, it does not mean they do not exist! There is no point in hiding the problem; it needs to be resolved today.
In one country, which you know well, Commissioner, homeless people are quite simply regarded as criminals. They are forbidden from sleeping on the streets, and are fined if they do, and the police hunt them down as far as underground stations or railway stations, despite the fact that there are no appropriate services in place to accommodate them.
The time for communication, false political promises and campaign slogans, as we see in certain States, is now past. That is why, following the European Consensus Conference on Homelessness, Parliament is calling on you to implement an integrated strategy aimed at resolving the problem of homelessness by 2020, based on the work that has already been carried out.
This strategy should focus on five major objectives: firstly, preventing homelessness; secondly, reducing its duration; thirdly, targeting the most severe types of homelessness; fourthly, improving the quality of services for homeless people; and finally, providing a sufficient amount of affordable housing.
This strategy must be coordinated with national and regional strategies. The results achieved with regard to the indicators developed jointly at European level must be regularly reviewed. Emphasis must be placed on social innovation, in particular, measures aimed at making housing the first step on the path towards social reintegration. Lastly, adequate funding must be guaranteed at both European and national level.
Commissioner, all talk aside, this is an emergency. Action is needed now. This is a question of political will: people do not have to be made homeless. Let us not wait until winter to remember that people die on the streets all year round. It is possible to put a stop to homelessness, and I think that the European Parliament is showing the way.
László Andor, Member of the Commission. – Madam President, given the strange and precarious conditions which many people are living and working under, it is not surprising that homelessness is increasingly in the public eye, both in the EU institutions and outside. We have to look at the social consequences of the financial and economic crisis, but in this particular case, it is also important to understand that homelessness existed before, and the crisis just aggravated this situation in a number of Member States. There is, however, also a growing understanding of what is needed to tackle it.
The Member States need to continue developing national or regional plans for action to deal with homelessness along the lines identified in the 2010 Joint Report on Social Protection and Social Inclusion. Of course, the Member States are responsible for much of what needs doing, but the EU can encourage and support the Member States in their efforts – for example, by helping to improve our understanding of the problems and possible solutions, finding better tools to measure them, and disseminating knowledge better.
EU funding can also help. The EU structural funds can and should be mobilised to tackle homelessness. The European Regional Development Fund provides funding for social housing for marginalised communities, and should continue to do so in the future. The European Social Fund provides support for the social and labour market reintegration of homeless people. We are currently drawing up the post-2013 financial framework. In this connection, gearing cohesion policy funding to meeting the Europe 2020 headline targets, including for reducing poverty, is vital.
The European Consensus Conference identified possible avenues and we are following them – for example, improving knowledge and monitoring, applying housing-led approaches, and promoting innovation and experimentation. Similarly, Parliament’s declaration of 16 December 2010 on an EU homelessness strategy highlights a number of priorities, including the need for better statistics.
The Commission is actively engaged in work at EU level. Preventing and tackling homelessness is an important aspect of work to tackle social exclusion and poverty under the Europe 2020 strategy. It is also a key area of work under the European Platform against Poverty and Social Exclusion, which covers areas highlighted at the Consensus Conference.
We have just commissioned a new study on the links between homelessness and migration. We are continuing our work on homelessness indicators in conjunction with the Social Protection Committee. We have promoted social innovation based on housing-led approaches which we would like to see applied more widely.
What matters now is putting all our energy and resources into carrying out the tasks identified at EU level so we get results quickly, rather than introducing new procedures or steering structures in the form of high-level groups or committees. Last month, I met key stakeholders to talk about how to step up our work on homelessness and what framework would help ensure that enough attention and energy are put into doing what is needed. This dialogue continues and will also be followed up by action.
Csaba Őry, on behalf of the PPE Group. – (HU) Madam President, our Socialist fellow Members decided to address a question about homelessness to the Commission, and to submit a motion for a resolution alongside that question. The Group of the European People’s Party considers the question apt and justified. We also find the motion for a resolution that has been put forward to be worthy of support, and we do indeed support it. We naturally also agree that homelessness is one of the most extreme forms of poverty, of abject poverty, and we believe that in the 21st century, such a thing is unacceptable. We must also realise – and in this respect, the correct approach is inherent in the question – that we need to address this issue in a well-coordinated, cooperative and integrated manner, both in individual Member States and in terms of the cooperation between them.
After all, homelessness is a terminus of sorts on the road to a person’s downfall, to his becoming outcast and isolated. It is a terminus where one finds oneself in a vicious circle: homeless people cannot find work. If they cannot find work, they have no chance of ever leaving homelessness behind. The problems then begin to accumulate: physical and mental deterioration, illness and often the formation of distinct, peculiar communities, as well as criminality and other problems. To break free from all this is obviously only possible through concerted efforts, and also programmes, in various fields: social services, health care, education and job creation. Any successful examples – and there have been successful examples in individual countries in the past, and even now there are some remarkable efforts – should be collected, because as they say, best practices should be brought together, and drawing on these it would be reasonable and useful for a European strategy to be formulated as well.
For our part, we therefore welcome the question and welcome and support the motion for a resolution.
Pervenche Berès, on behalf of the S&D Group. – (FR) Madam President, Commissioner, this is the second time that the European Parliament has come together at short notice to question you on the issue of homelessness.
We did so in 2008, when the crisis had only just begun. Here we are back together today, in 2011, with a declaration that we drafted in 2010 and which reminds you of the urgent need to address this scandal within the European Union, this area which, in global terms, remains an area of wealth and so-called civilisation, and yet where, sadly, homelessness is rife in every single one of our towns. All the local councillors tell us that they take action day after day to help these people in distress whom the crisis has hit hard, be it in Athens, Berlin, Paris or Helsinki.
Can we accept the fact that a Union founded on solidarity is allowing homelessness, which is the most obvious symptom of poverty and social exclusion, to develop here and there? I remember the debate we had: ought the poverty eradication objectives to be integrated into the EU strategy? Would this be the responsibility of the European Union? I do not wish to relaunch the legal debate, since the bases have been established. They are enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights. We have repackaged them as a political objective for the EU strategy.
Commissioner, it is your responsibility, and that of the College, to harness the tools at the disposal of the European Union so that the Stability and Growth Pact does not lead, in future, to indiscriminate cuts in any possible funding available to the services that help these people, those that carry out exemplary work in the community, those whom we call social workers, whose job is made almost impossible today, as demonstrated by the resignation in France of the founder of Samu social, Xavier Emmanuelli, which generated a certain amount of publicity.
The Commission can also intervene to encourage the Member States, not to apply the rules of competition to social housing, but to finance social housing, so that homelessness is no longer an urgent issue in future.
Elizabeth Lynne, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – Madam President, although combating poverty and social exclusion is mainly the responsibility of national governments, the EU can play a coordinating role, and I believe it should, particularly in relation to homelessness. This is in line with the 2020 strategy. In many cases, however, there is no need to reinvent the wheel; there are many examples of best practice across the EU. That information needs to be collected and disseminated far more widely than it is being at the moment.
Can the Commissioner outline more of the plans for what the Commission is about to do under the homelessness strategy in terms of collating that information? Also, how much information is already available from Member States on the causes of homelessness? We know that three million people across the EU have no fixed home of their own. Why is this? How much do drug and alcohol problems contribute to street homelessness? In one survey in the UK, for instance, 40% of people questioned had drug problems, 49% alcohol problems and 35% mental health problems. Now you might say that adds up to over 100%. Of course it does, because a lot of people had more than one: some of them had drug, alcohol and mental health problems combined. How much data do we already have from different Member States on this issue?
I know there are many projects that are trying to tackle these issues, like one in my constituency funded under the Daphne Programme dealing with women rough sleepers. Also, there are many projects dealing with domestic violence, which of course can, in turn, lead to homelessness.
What I believe we are, all of us, asking for here is a coordinating approach across the EU. First and foremost, we need to know what is already being done and how we can assist in the development of national and regional strategies which would encourage Member States to set a clear date to end street homelessness, which we called for in the written declaration that, as Karima Delli mentioned, was adopted on 16 December last year.
Homelessness has never been a political priority; it has never been a popular subject. Maybe because there are not many votes in it, but that is one of the reasons why it is important to involve all people, from all parties and no party. We must involve national, regional and local policy makers, homeless service providers and, above all, people who have experienced homelessness themselves. We need to work towards a homeless strategy that really works: a homeless strategy for the future.
Ryszard Czarnecki, on behalf of the ECR Group. – (PL) Madam President, I have particular reason to speak in this debate, because this issue is, for me personally, a very important one. My interest is based on a family tradition. In the 19th century, one of my forebears founded shelters and hostels for the homeless in the Polish city of Kraków.
This shows the problem to be a very old one, very much older than the European Union. Then – as now – the state also often shrugged its shoulders helplessly. Today, of course, we can keep saying – and it is true – that this is the responsibility of the European Union’s Member States and not the Union itself. However, I think that moral and ethical considerations do allow the European Parliament to point out what should be done and to persuade the Member States to coordinate action in this area.
The crisis has shown something which was once kept shamefully hidden. The crisis, like water which has subsided, has shown the truth of the matter – it is, in fact, a problem which, if not common, is certainly growing all the time. We have spoken here, of course, about speculation in the property market. It is also necessary to mention the banking and lending system in general, as it has often been the cause of people who borrow ending up, sooner or later, on the street – they become homeless. This is a much wider problem, that of a modern civilisation which is engulfed by consumerism and is creating an ever greater underclass of people who cannot cope with this situation. We should also keep this in mind.
Finally, I would like to say that this issue transcends political divisions. We can all make the effort to speak together, stressing with one voice the moral obligation to help these people, all the more so because there are increasing numbers of them in every country, both rich and poor.
Ilda Figueiredo, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. – (PT) Madam President, the issue concerning homeless people constitutes an unacceptable violation of fundamental human rights, which is why effective measures are needed. As Parliament’s declaration of 16 December 2010 confirmed, it is crucial to prioritise actions promoting social inclusion, so as to ensure that no one sleeps rough and that even the time they may spend in temporary shelter is strictly limited to the time needed to provide them with suitable housing: their own housing.
We therefore call on the Commission to draft an ambitious homelessness strategy and to support the Member States in drafting effective national strategies, including, wherever necessary, Union funding to finance housing projects for marginalised groups in the Member States. However, above all, it is crucial that the issue concerning the homeless be integrated with the various relevant policy areas – specifically, the economic, financial and social areas – so as to guarantee jobs with rights, quality public services and decent pensions.
If this does not happen, with the neoliberal and anti-social policies, and the so-called austerity plans being imposed on some Member States, there will be an increase in the number of people who do not earn enough to be able to afford a home, which will lead to an increase in the number of people who are homeless or unable to pay for their electricity, gas, water, sewerage or rent, or who are unable to pay their mortgages. That is why special attention needs to be paid to this situation, once and for all.
Jaroslav Paška, on behalf of the EFD Group. – (SK) Madam President, homelessness has long weighed on civilised and cultured society in Europe. Street homelessness is the most visible and most extreme form of poverty and social exclusion. There are many reasons for getting into this situation. These often include personal factors, such as the breakdown of a close relationship, domestic violence, loss of employment, illegal migration, use of addictive substances or complete loss of ability to earn at least some level of income.
The European Consensus Conference on Homelessness in December last year attempted to find an answer to the question of how to deal with this distressing phenomenon, which is frustrating to any decent person. The fundamental and primary measure should be one of prevention, by reducing the threat of eviction to a minimum where there are personal problems. Another temporary measure should be to ensure access to temporary accommodation for the time it takes to overcome short-term problems. After overcoming the worst problems, the people affected should be assisted in their own best efforts towards securing accommodation that is cheap and basic but, at the same time, stable. It will definitely be necessary to think about other assistance for them as well, on top of accommodation. This too, however, should be provided primarily on the basis of their active cooperation.
Diane Dodds (NI). – Madam President, I welcome the opportunity to take part in this debate on the issue of homelessness. While I recognise that this is an issue for the Member States, it is also an issue to which this Parliament and this House can give greater political importance through this kind of recognition and this kind of debate.
In 2010-2011, in my constituency in Northern Ireland, the number of people who registered as homeless increased by 8% on the previous year. In 2010, there were over 38 000 applicants on the social housing waiting list. I know that there are a wide range of reasons for the increases in both housing waiting lists and in cases of homelessness. These can be both social and economic, as we have already heard very eloquently espoused in this House tonight. What is absolutely vital is that we give adequate support, guidance and training to those who find themselves in this position, as well as supply good quality and affordable accommodation.
There are many initiatives in Northern Ireland to tackle the problem of homelessness. In the past three years, over EUR 200 million have been spent on social housing. I am particularly encouraged by an emphasis on those young people who find themselves homeless, many through difficult problems and some through no fault of their own. I can look to some facilities which have opened just in the last year which are good examples of helping young people to gain long-term independence through the provision of temporary accommodation and adequate support services. These are the kinds of schemes that we should be looking at, and are the way forward.
Sari Essayah (PPE). – (FI) Madam President, Commissioner, homelessness is one of the most poignant challenges amid the economic crisis ravaging Europe, and it is frequently associated with multidimensional social and health problems.
Homelessness cannot be defined completely unambiguously: it is a phenomenon that differs greatly in content at different times and in different countries. This makes it difficult to make a comparative estimate of the number of homeless people, though that cannot be any sort of excuse for the absence of a homelessness strategy.
Social policy must fall within the competence of the Member States, but we need coordination and an exchange of best practices. Fortunately, national homelessness strategies have been established in many Member States.
In my country, Finland, the programme to reduce long-term homelessness has been based on the application of the Housing First principle. According to this, the organisation of accommodation and the improvement in personal life management would, for example, reduce the need for substance abuse and medical services, and motivate many people with substance abuse problems, for example, to seek rehabilitation.
The new model focuses far more attention than before on the prevention of homelessness and its permanent reduction, rather than the development of temporary dwellings or accommodation. There is also an understanding that subsidised housing in the context of the existing housing stock will be significantly cheaper for society than having to deal with the consequences of homelessness in hospitals, drug rehabilitation centres or prisons.
Commissioner, last year was European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion. European Years should not just be for making celebratory speeches, but for intervening in serious human problems.
Frédéric Daerden (S&D). – (FR) Madam President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, as rapporteur on the flagship initiative aimed at combating poverty in the current context of budgetary pressure on the Member States and the Union, I am convinced that Europe’s economic recovery will be effective only if the focus is purely on budgetary restraint.
The objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy, and poverty reduction in particular, are vital. Social policies cannot take second place: they must be conducted alongside budgetary restraint policies. Therefore, as well as ensuring that citizens have a decent quality of life, poverty reduction has significant economic consequences, including that of support for European consumption.
Homelessness is certainly one of the most advanced stages of poverty for impoverished and socially excluded individuals. Once they have lost their home, it becomes even more difficult for individuals whose main concern is knowing where they are going to sleep that night to re-enter the labour market.
I therefore support all of the measures recommended in the oral question and the resolution and, in particular, the idea of an affordable housing supply. In this respect, social housing is the responsibility of the Member States, which are free to plan this service of general interest as they see fit. Attention should be drawn to this aspect of the Treaties, so that the Member States are never hampered in their efforts to combat homelessness by rules on State aid.
For all these reasons, this resolution must be endorsed. I hope that it will be adopted by a large majority so that I can refer to it in my forthcoming report.
Paul Murphy (GUE/NGL). – Madam President, reference has been made to the EU 2020 target of lifting 20 million people out of poverty and social exclusion by 2020. We should recognise reality here: the reality is that instead of approaching that target, we are moving further and further away from it, and it is a direct result of the cuts and attacks that are imposed on working people right across Europe.
These austerity policies are forcing millions into poverty and putting many at risk of homelessness. In Greece in the past two years, for example, homelessness has risen by 25%. In Ireland, too, services for the homeless have been cut and face outsourcing and privatisation. This means fewer resources for the most vulnerable in our society. The wages and conditions of those providing those services have also been attacked.
The crazy logic of a system built on profit, rather than people’s needs, is exposed in Ireland whereby you have 48 000 families on the housing waiting lists and 300 vacant housing units, and yet they are not used. They are not taken into public ownership. They are not used to provide homes for people who need it. Instead, you have a reliance on the private sector and because of that, only 296 out of a target of 1 200 housing units were secured in Ireland over the past year.
Instead of more money for the bankers and the bond holders, I call for a massive increase in funding to care for those who find themselves homeless. The basic human right to housing must be made a reality and policies such as the Housing First approach should be implemented to provide people with homes immediately.
Anne Delvaux (PPE). – (FR) Madam President, Commissioner, I welcome this resolution on homelessness, since we have a duty to remind people of how extremely urgent the matter is.
Let us note, first of all, that what was a priority yesterday is even more of a priority today. The lack of a definition and of reliable statistical indicators on homelessness cannot prevent us from concluding that, partly as a result of the crisis, the number of people living below the poverty line has increased, according to Eurostat, from 79 million in 2009 to an estimated 84 million in 2011.
Ladies and gentlemen, three years ago, our Parliament, in an effort to eradicate poverty, called on the Member States to solve the problems faced by homeless people by 2015. Today, have we even partially achieved our objective? Did the Member States really take advantage of 2010, the year for combating poverty, to actually address this major source of insecurity, which has become a chronic emergency? If I may say so, I genuinely doubt it, and I deeply regret it.
To conclude, I wish to stress the need to develop a comprehensive multisectoral strategy on homelessness, because poverty and homelessness certainly do exist, but there are also family problems, health issues, various addictions and personal vulnerability. We need a comprehensive, effective, ambitious and tailored approach that caters for individuals, the different paths they take and the significant life events they face. This is a fundamental right, to say the least, and one that many very vulnerable people are deprived of.
(The speaker agreed to take a blue-card question under Rule 149(8))
Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (S&D). – (RO) Madam President, I would like to ask my fellow Member the following question. Perhaps there was a mistake in translation, but I understood from my colleague’s speech that 84 million European citizens are homeless. Does this mean that one in five European citizens is homeless? Perhaps they are vulnerable to the risk of poverty, but are not homeless as such.
Anne Delvaux (PPE). – (FR) No, Ms Ţicău. I think there was a problem with the interpretation, because 84 million people are living below the poverty line, which is not the same thing at all.
Kinga Göncz (S&D). – (HU) Madam President, of course I, too, find it important for the Commission to take action in coordinating, monitoring and assisting Member State homelessness policies in all those areas mentioned in the draft Parliamentary resolution and at the Consensus Conference on Homelessness. I would, however, like to highlight two aspects which, being new phenomena, require special treatment. On the one hand, as a social consequence of the crisis, we have severe and long-term unemployment and the debt crises of families, the inability of many to repay their home loans. This is particularly crippling for those who took out loans in continuously appreciating foreign currencies, especially in Swiss francs.
Both of these carry the risk of people losing their homes, and require special preventive measures, including measures such as a review of whether the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive needs to be tightened at a European level. The other phenomenon I would like to mention is that we see with increasing frequency the involvement of the police in dealing with homelessness: discrimination against homeless people, their removal from public spaces in ways that violate their human dignity, and their being threatened with penalties and detention. As stated several times today, homelessness is an extreme form of poverty. This needs to be accorded special attention within the European platform against poverty, and its human rights implications must also be treated as a priority.
Willy Meyer (GUE/NGL). – (ES) Madam President, I know that the current tendency of economic policy in the European Union towards adoration of the free market and capping costs has resulted in millions of victims and the dismantling of the European social state which is a goal to build towards. The US has opted for public investment; here we are doing the opposite.
Moreover, as part of this attack on social welfare, homeless people are being targeted, but the response is merely good intentions. I shall cite an example in my country, Spain: unemployment is attacking Spain as in no other country; it is higher here than in any other country of the European Union. There are people without jobs, people with mortgages, who have to pay their mortgage every month but cannot pay it; therefore, the bank cuts them off, takes away their homes, but they still have to go on paying the debt to the bank.
This seems immoral to me. I know that in other EU countries, this does not happen; that is, repossession is legal: they give up the property and once it has been surrendered, all debts are cancelled. It seems to me that what is done in Spain is immoral, and I urge the European Commission to bring in laws so that we have common legislation which enables us to offer this kind of protection to citizens who have mortgages and who have no salary enabling them to continue paying the mortgage and who, even after their homes have been taken away, still have to carry on paying off every month a debt which makes no sense from an ethical point of view.
For this reason, I believe that we cannot stop at good intentions, as we are aware that the most important thing would be to change this neoliberal economic policy which is leading us to the destruction of the social sphere within Europe.
Joanna Katarzyna Skrzydlewska (PPE). – (PL) Madam President, the problem of homelessness remains unsolved in Europe. The kind of people who are homeless is also changing. Up to now, the stereotype of a homeless person was considered to be a middle-aged man, but now an increasing number of homeless people are young women, victims of violence and immigrants. The most highly visible and extreme form of homelessness is where homeless people live on the street, although homelessness can also take on other forms.
The phenomenon of homelessness is having an adverse effect on whole societies, so despite the efforts of the Member States in this area, it is essential for action to be taken at EU level. The Member States not only have different definitions of homelessness, but they also use different methods of collecting and presenting data. Therefore, for the Union to be able to create a common framework for supporting and monitoring the work of the Member States in developing a strategy for combating homelessness, it is essential to solve these problems.
Therefore, I would like, today, to put several questions to the Commission. The European Consensus Conference on Homelessness held in December of last year divided the causes of this phenomenon into many different categories reflecting different origins. Does the Commission intend, as part of work on the strategy, to present solutions which take into account differences in the circumstances which have rendered people homeless? Does the Commission plan to include non-governmental organisations in work on the strategy, and if so, how? How would the Commission like to involve non-governmental organisations in the fight against homelessness, apart from the measures which these organisations are already using as part of their official roles? How does the Commission intend to measure the strategy’s effectiveness after it has been put into operation, in view of the fact that the situation of homeless people is different in different Member States?
Monika Flašíková Beňová (S&D). – (SK) Madam President, in December, together with more than half of the Members here in the plenary of the European Parliament, I called on the Commission to adopt an effective and comprehensive EU strategy for combating street homelessness.
We are therefore now asking the Commission what has actually happened since then, what measures you have adopted, and whether you would like to cooperate with us on such a strategy. A strategy to combat street homelessness should include several elements. It should have a clear and measurable objective, and it should cut across all the relevant policies. It should have clear dimensions within the framework of housing policy, and it should also take account of the nature of the population, whether from the perspective of the impact of immigration, for example, or the ever-deepening poverty resulting from the economic and social crisis in the Member States of the European Union. Reporting on the strategies for combating homelessness should be included in the national strategic reports submitted within the framework of the open coordination method in the social area. I would therefore like to call on the Commission one more time to ensure the implementation of effective measures and to work with us on a specific strategy for combating street homelessness.
Marie-Christine Vergiat (GUE/NGL). – (FR) Madam President, 8% of Europeans live in extremely impoverished conditions and cannot afford to meet their basic needs and thus live a decent life. Thousands of them, including a growing number of young people, women and children, sleep on the streets; others sleep in temporary and insalubrious accommodation. Without a home, most of the other fundamental rights are but a pipe dream; this is especially true of the right to work and to live as a family unit.
Yes, Commissioner, you have told us that the crisis has made the situation worse within the European Union, even though it is the world’s leading economic power. The austerity policies are hitting the most vulnerable people the hardest. You have listed the tools available to the European Union one by one. All this fine talk aside, what specific policies have the Member States actually implemented, when they are not even capable of providing statistics on the subject? Worse, some Member States are criminalising poverty more and more.
When will the resources needed to implement the Charter of Fundamental Rights finally be provided, especially for those who need it most? If we started with that, it would make all the fine talk about human rights and social Europe more credible.
Regina Bastos (PPE). – (PT) Madam President, the number of homeless people, as well as the number of people living below the poverty line, has continued to rise in recent years in several Member States. As everyone predicted, the economic, financial and social crisis, and a rise in unemployment, has exacerbated this problem. Everyone also agrees that this phenomenon runs counter to important European Union values: respect for human dignity and respect for fundamental rights.
In my country, for example, which is subject to severe austerity measures, the concept of ‘homeless’ under the national plan includes people needing help to put food on the table. The number of people seeking help to feed themselves has increased by over 20% since 2008. There has been a noticeably higher increase in deprived families and individuals, whose living situations have changed as a result of unemployment as well as bank debts. That is just one example illustrating the seriousness of the situation.
Last year, Parliament adopted a written declaration on a European Union homelessness strategy. With this declaration, Parliament warned of the need for the European Union to equip itself with a strategy supported by national and regional strategies, with the long-term goal of putting an end to people sleeping rough and to long-term homelessness.
National strategies should focus on preventative measures, but also on specific actions for improving the quality of the services provided to the homeless and on making affordable housing available. Naturally, this European strategy should also be compatible with the Member States’ social housing policies. We paid due attention to the Commissioner’s words and have made a note of his analysis of the situation.
I shall conclude by calling on the Commission to give strong impetus to coordinating the actions of the Member States and regional authorities to combat this social injustice.
Íñigo Méndez de Vigo (PPE). – (ES) Madam President, I do not think this is the first debate we have held on this topic in Parliament. We had it in 2008, 2010 was the European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion when we put forward a written declaration, and we are now putting an oral question to the Commission.
What I mean is that, firstly, Parliament has always been concerned about this problem, which is a real one, because one often hears it said that we are preoccupied with institutional issues in which people are not interested. Institutional issues are important, but the issue of poverty is a genuine one and those of us who are present here tonight are demonstrating our concern.
Secondly, it is true that – as the Commissioner has said – the action plans are essentially national plans. This is so. However, it is true that we can also do things at a European level. We did this – as Ms Berès will recall – when, at the insistence of this Parliament, we included the reference to social exclusion in the Charter of Fundamental Rights, and the struggle against poverty among the EU’s goals.
I believe that very soon, we shall have the opportunity to take concrete action. I am referring to the debate and vote on the European Union budgets. These will take place very shortly and I think this will be an opportunity for demonstrating our commitment.
The third point I should like to make, Madam President, is that it is very important to combat social exclusion and to combat poverty, but it is even more important to respect human dignity. A person suffering from poverty is one who possesses all the fundamental human rights, and we need to recognise this. Recently, I watched a film on Father Brezinski which I would recommend that my colleagues see, because this film demonstrates that the fight against inequalities is closely linked to the fight for dignity.
Finally, Madam President, I would not wish to overlook one fact. From certain speeches, it would seem as if the defence of the European social model were the exclusive heritage of one particular political group in this Chamber. This is not the case. We in the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and in all groups place great importance on the European social model, because this defines us, and because this is part of our identity.
Therefore, I think that together – and both this question and the resolution show this – we will continue to fight for it to remain so.
Sylvana Rapti (S&D). – (EL) Madam President, Commissioner, a person, however poor he may be, who sees a homeless person as he is walking down the street thinks that he is worlds apart from him. It does not enter a poor person’s mind that he may at some point become homeless, and yet the difference is minimal, a hair’s breadth. That becomes clear in times of economic crisis.
The number of homeless people is growing at an alarming rate. We can feel it and I use that word advisedly, because there are no statistics. However, everyone in my country knows what is happening and can see what is happening in their street and in their neighbourhood. Where there is economic crisis, poverty follows. Where there is poverty, slowly but surely, a lack of jobs and work follows and ‘suddenly, a person becomes homeless. We need to combat this. We all need to help, not just each Member State separately. We need a European strategy, a European umbrella, if we are to achieve the ultimate objective which, in my opinion, should be the social reintegration of homeless people.
Elisabeth Morin-Chartier (PPE). – (FR) Madam President, I fully support this oral question and this resolution because we are faced with a problem that is unworthy of Europe, unworthy of the values that we uphold, and unworthy of the average standard of living that we have in Europe.
The crisis has significantly exacerbated the problem of homelessness, but I believe it is important to recognise, today, that we all face the same threat: any European can fall victim to homelessness in the future. The first tool that we can use is, of course, the European Social Fund, which enables people to integrate and reintegrate into the labour market, to enter work and to adapt to new jobs, and unemployed people to return to work.
However, beyond this – and in my capacity as Chair of the Working Group on the European Social Fund and Progress – I wish to stress that the Progress programme can, and must, help us to act more quickly in resolving this problem: through prevention, firstly, but also by defining, together, indicators to provide us with a genuinely effective policy or approach regarding access to housing.
Good practices exist at European level to achieve these objectives. I believe that, together – in the Commission and in our Working Group, as well as in the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, with our Chair, Ms Berès – we must work out what is being done and what works in the Member States, which strategies are genuinely forward-looking, and whether individual support, coaching, a one-to-one approach and personal supervision can really be important factors in enabling us to resolve these problems, which are unworthy of Europe.
Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (S&D). – (RO) Madam President, homelessness continues to be an issue for the whole of Europe, exerting an adverse effect not only on those with nowhere to live but also on society. It is well known that during winter months, large cities in Member States are faced with a shortfall in the number of places available in shelters specially set up for homeless people.
Combating homelessness has become a priority, being a major part of the European social protection and social inclusion strategy, especially within the new post-Lisbon Europe 2020 strategy. Although progress has been made by many Member States in combating this problem, support and coordination of policies at EU level is required. It is not only the definition of homelessness which varies greatly between Member States. The way in which data is collected and reported is also very different.
The European Union must produce a common framework for supporting and monitoring Member States as they draw up policies aimed at combating homelessness.
I think that prevention is the most cost-effective way to combat homelessness. Emphasis must also be placed on the integration of disadvantaged groups into the workplace: young people, the elderly, women, people with disabilities and minorities groups. The integration process must also take into account the aspects relating to family life. Particular attention must be focused on deprived regions and on using the European Regional Development Fund to build social housing for deprived persons.
Bogusław Sonik (PPE). – (PL) Madam President, one of the five objectives of the European Union’s new Europe 2020 strategy is to bring 20 million of the people living in the European Union out of poverty. The data and statistics on poverty from 2009 are simply alarming: as many as 113 million people are affected by poverty and social exclusion. The situation is particularly worrying in that it may become worse because of the financial and economic crisis. Homelessness is an extremely drastic aspect of poverty and, what is worse, it is inherited, which makes it more difficult to tackle and control.
I welcome all the efforts being made in this area by the European Parliament, which is making a particular point of fighting this phenomenon. In existing initiatives, clearly specified stipulations have been made concerning the question of control and prevention, including eliminating street homelessness by 2015 and fighting the causes of homelessness by formulating suitable housing and social policy. The success of the homelessness strategy at European level will depend on how the Commission fulfils the role it has been given of mobilising the Member States as quickly as possible to build effective and comprehensive strategies for tackling and controlling homelessness. The success of the project will, in large measure, also be decided by the degree of openness to working with the people affected by homelessness and with non-governmental organisations and other social partners.
The creation of an effective homelessness policy is, therefore, dependent on interinstitutional cooperation and proper and effective implementation of existing legislation. Only a shared vision on policy and the engagement of both the European Union and the Member States can bring about full realisation of the objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy.
Monika Smolková (S&D). – (SK) Madam President, homelessness is one of the worst and most extreme manifestations of poverty and social exclusion. We encounter homeless people every day outside shopping centres, in subways and on the streets, neglected, dirty and hungry. Solidarity is a characteristic of the European Union. An awareness that all people have the right to a dignified life, and an understanding that society as a whole has an interest in eliminating poverty should draw all levels of society into eliminating this phenomenon. There is space here, in my opinion, for individuals, as well as the public and private sector. The planned public awareness campaign should help towards this, but the time has come for us to introduce a pan-European system of cooperation between individual states.
Miroslav Mikolášik (PPE). – (SK) Madam President, anyone can get into a very difficult situation without a roof over their head. A number of problems come together here, for example, employment, financial, family or psychological difficulties, which force such people into a state where they are trapped. A joint effort of the local and regional bodies of the European institutions is thus becoming an essential precondition for creating a permanent solution to this problem. Structural funds directed towards a strategy for creating accommodation for socially disadvantaged groups within the population should also be expressly incorporated into a solution to the problem of homelessness, and the specific use of these funds must then be monitored and assessed. I would like to end by expressing the conviction that homelessness is incompatible with the values of a modern, inclusive society and of the EU, and I therefore applaud the fact that the 2020 strategy, the main aim of which is to protect at least 20 million people from the threat of poverty and social exclusion by 2020, also creates space for solving the issue of homelessness.
Rareş-Lucian Niculescu (PPE). – (RO) Madam President, homelessness is undoubtedly a serious problem, which must be the centre of attention for national and European institutions. However, I believe that the discussion is incomplete if we ignore another problem which is at least just as serious, namely, poor housing.
According to Eurostat, one European in six lives in overcrowded or substandard housing. Problems with substandard housing are prevalent in every Member State. Millions of Europeans do not have an inside toilet or a bathroom and shower. According to the findings of a study by the French Abbé Pierre Foundation concerning poverty and housing standards, more than 8 million French citizens are living in makeshift conditions.
In these circumstances, I think that, in addition to a European Union homelessness strategy, a long-term policy for improving European citizens’ living standards is required.
Petru Constantin Luhan (PPE). – (RO) Madam President, the problem of homelessness has become worse in recent years, to the extent where we now also have homeless women, families who live on the street, homeless young people and children, and workers who have lost their homes as a result of defaulting on their loans due to the economic and financial crisis.
I would like to make a few suggestions to the Commission which might offer solutions to this problem. First of all, I believe that setting up a European agency for homeless people or for monitoring homeless people might provide a solution that will follow up on this problem, in line with European standards and by providing common solutions for the whole of Europe.
The next measure is to extend and use structural funds, such as the European Social Fund and the European Regional Development Fund, to analyse the problem of homelessness and, in particular, to build permanent housing where it is needed, following the Finnish ‘Housing First’ model, which has proven that a EUR 14 000 reduction is achieved in costs for every beneficiary supported.
Last but not least, I suggest that homeless people should be consulted, along with the associations they belong to, when it comes to drawing up future measures.
Anna Záborská (PPE). – (SK) Madam President, I would like to express a view that has not been heard here yet. If the family is functioning properly, homelessness is a marginal issue. We must help people who have lost everything and who cannot help themselves. This Parliament, however, continues to adopt many laws that weaken the family. The Commission and Parliament do everything so that mothers entrust the care of their children as quickly as possible to strangers in collective facilities. This comes at the expense of developing relationships. We talk about the work-life balance, but we refuse to recognise the value of the work of women who care for children, close relatives or the household. When someone ends up on the street, we propose resolutions, set up committees, order studies and think up strategies. However, we lose sight of the fact that building up and holding onto a home takes time, effort and energy. It is no easy task. If no one does it, both the family and the home will fall apart. Some manage to keep a roof over their head, but some do not.
Iosif Matula (PPE). – (RO) Madam President, the alarming rise in the number of homeless people and the social polarisation in terms of housing standards in the last decade pose major challenges for European states. One condition required to reduce the impact of this problem is to coordinate the strategies for tackling exclusion due to homelessness by integrating national, regional and local levels so that decisions are made as closely as possible to those affected.
Another measure which is just as important is to make more efficient use of the European funds earmarked for building housing and to channel them into social housing. Campaigns such as the European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion, intended to encourage the exchange of good practices, can play a key role in raising public awareness and responsibility.
I would also like to mention the need for national strategies targeted at vulnerable people, aimed at improving their living conditions by removing the barriers preventing their participation in the labour market, improving the quality of social services provided and increasing the supply of affordable housing.
Phil Prendergast (S&D). – Madam President, does the Commission intend to consider making use of housing units which have never been occupied since the onset of the crisis? Does it intend to tie in its strategy on homelessness with efforts to relieve financially distressed households in difficulty due to servicing mortgage debt, as these are also at risk of becoming homeless? Indeed, many people in that situation have become homeless. Does it intend to study the relation between mortgage indebtedness, land planning and real estate regulation across the EU?
Elena Băsescu (PPE). – (RO) Madam President, the problem of homelessness has recently grown worse and spread due to the economic crisis. These people are particularly vulnerable. The lack of a European policy promoting the social integration of this group is a breach of their fundamental human rights. I support the notion of adopting a strategy aimed at improving the situation of homeless people. The EU must protect the right to a life of dignity and to participate fully in a society including all citizens.
I must point out that exclusion causes a form of discrimination motivated by social inclusion. It can have a significant impact on the physical and mental integrity of the people affected. I think that structural funds need to be allocated at EU level, which would help resolve this problem. The funds can be used, in particular, for building permanent social housing.
Claudiu Ciprian Tănăsescu (S&D). – (RO) Madam President, from a strictly biological perspective, being healthy is not the privilege of the rich, just as being ill is not a typical characteristic of the poor. However, in social terms, this statement tends to prove to be false.
There are, of course, European institutions and bodies which provide medical care to deprived groups of people, which also include the homeless. However, we have to note with dismay that it does not reach the level of the care provided across the Atlantic, either in terms of the quality of medical procedures or the programmes available.
This European homelessness strategy perhaps ought to be reviewed now, both from this perspective and specifically from the perspective of providing medical care to the homeless.
László Andor, Member of the Commission. – Madam President, Europe suffers from a solidarity deficit. I believe that, until this is really turned around, this can not only destroy the European social model, but can also destroy the European Union itself. I think this has to be taken very seriously. Without much greater solidarity, we will not be able to end the financial crisis. It is true that, until this financial crisis is over, Member States – especially those on the periphery of the European Union – will continue to drift towards social crisis and potentially social catastrophe. Homelessness is one aspect of this very negative tendency.
I am grateful to the honourable Members, because this debate confirmed that the House is committed to addressing homelessness and housing exclusion. So is the Commission. The Europe 2020 strategy to combat poverty and social exclusion covers homelessness and housing exclusion. This problem is not about an absolute shortage of housing in Europe. This is mainly a distributional question. Homelessness has increased in Member States which experience population decline, so it is not about an absolute shortage of housing. It is wrong to consider poor or homeless people as criminals. Member State governments and local governments have to intervene to correct this very severe market failure.
Homelessness and housing exclusion are primarily Member State competences, and some are very jealous of this. EU housing markets differ significantly in terms of tenancy conditions, quality of housing, services for the homeless, and so on. What we need is more policy coordination, as Liz Lynne pointed out, information exchanges and statistical evidence, and also a better exchange of best practices.
Nevertheless, the Commission has already embarked on working along the lines which have been proposed, such as striving to improve the knowledge base, supporting and promoting innovation, and the housing-led approach. More is planned. I believe that priority must be given to the integrated approaches which Mr Őry explained. I would like to open doors for this under the new umbrella of social innovation.
This problem also connects with human rights, or the lack of respect for human rights. This has to be looked at from various angles and also from the legislative side. It is truly unacceptable if, for example, as a result of the financial crisis, people who took out a mortgage loan lose their apartment or house, and then still owe money to the bank after losing the house. We have to look at what can be done in this area to improve the legislative framework in Europe.
Furthermore, the Commission is in dialogue with stakeholders to ensure that the profile and framework of work in this field is suitable. We have to continue working with the Member States. Some of them, instead of working on a social housing strategy, open the way for evictions. I will have an opportunity in Kraków in October, at the Convention of the European Platform against Poverty, which is part of the Europe 2020 strategy, to continue this dialogue and to mobilise the Member States, as requested by the honourable Member, and also other stakeholders in working together in this area.
We will also continue working with the NGOs. However, I am sure you are also aware that not all NGOs share the approach of the Consensus Conference. In this continued dialogue, I therefore very much count on the support of this House in order to address homelessness and improve housing conditions in the European Union.
President. – I have received one motion for a resolution(1) tabled in accordance with Rule 108(5) of the Rules of Procedure.
The debate is closed.
The vote will take place tomorrow, 14 September 2011.
Written statements (Rule 149)
John Attard-Montalto (S&D), in writing. – The fact that the vast majority in Europe have homes/houses does not mean that a problem of homelessness does not exist. All of us know that when we walk around our capitals and major towns, we still see people sleeping on the sidewalks, huddled up in cardboard boxes. Perhaps my country (Malta) is one of the few countries where homelessness does not exist any more. President Mandela once said that he wanted every family in Africa to have at least one room to live in. Compared to Africa and other continents, the problem of homelessness in the EU is not a major problem. On the other hand, for those persons who do not have a home (even if the percentage is low), it is a tragedy. That is why we need a strategy across the EU for the homeless. It is not enough that every country has its own way of dealing with the problem, some more successfully than others. If we believe in a real union of European countries, we have to have a strategy for homelessness which goes beyond the borders of individual countries.
Filip Kaczmarek (PPE), in writing. – (PL) Homelessness is a serious problem. We should make use of best practices in our fight against homelessness. We must do this because human dignity and its protection is one of the European Union’s fundamental values. Luckily, we have many successful examples of working with the homeless. This should be done not only by non-governmental organisations but perhaps – or even first and foremost – by local authorities. In accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, local governments cannot, and must not, avoid this problem. Therefore, I urge local authorities, including those in my home town of Poznań, to take the question of homelessness seriously and give it the necessary attention. The aim of every policy at every level should be to serve the common good and to serve the people, and is there anyone who needs public help more than the person who, for various reasons, has found himself on the street? Let us remember this.
Ádám Kósa (PPE), in writing. – (HU) The drafting of the homelessness strategy has always been an extremely important topic, but now, amidst the current economic crisis, it has become an issue of the utmost urgency. Member States are trying to tackle the problem with varying degrees of intensity and success. It is my firm belief that the EU has competence in this matter, and could facilitate the process through appropriate financial means, mainly by launching new programmes in the context of the European Social Fund.
Jacek Protasiewicz (PPE), in writing. – (PL) I have been actively engaged for many years in efforts to raise the awareness of Europeans about poverty and in the fight against this extreme manifestation of poverty – homelessness – so I support the motion for a European Parliament resolution, in which we call for the drafting of a framework for the first European strategy for fighting homelessness in Europe.
The phenomenon of homelessness continues to affect people in all of the EU’s Member States. Therefore, the European Union should take united action to coordinate policies on homelessness at European level. The problem of homelessness requires a more strategic approach, which can be ensured only by the cooperation of all the Member States. I endorse the European Parliament’s call for the development of an ambitious, integrated EU strategy, underpinned by national and regional strategies with the long-term aim of reducing the magnitude of this dangerous phenomenon. At the same time, while I appreciate the importance of monitoring and reporting work, I call for the EU homelessness strategy to encompass more than just monitoring and reporting and to develop measures which allow support for the development and maintenance of effective national and regional homelessness strategies.
Csaba Sógor (PPE), in writing. – (HU) Joining in with my fellow Members’ oral question, I would like to ask the Commission to focus mainly on prevention when drafting, as soon as possible, the EU’s homelessness strategy. Homelessness is reaching increasingly disconcerting levels in all of Europe today and, as a phenomenon, can be attributed, besides the obvious economic reasons, to a more and more atomised society and the dissolution of traditional small communities. Nowadays, the problem is no longer exclusive to those who have fallen to the fringes of society through alcohol or drug abuse: in a number of EU Member States, the phenomenon is affecting an increasingly large segment of the middle classes, including many people who hold college degrees and even have, or used to have, permanent jobs. It is these people who could avoid homelessness and the desolation it entails with relatively little targeted help provided according to a detailed strategy. We must sadly note that the kind of ‘private social safety net’ that had been typical of small communities showing solidarity for their members some decades ago either no longer exists or has been largely abandoned. This is another reason why Member States should pay more attention to the marginalised.