REPORT on the communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions: Draft joint report on social inclusion
(COM(2001) 565 – C5-0109/2002 – 2002/2051(COS))

30 April 2002

Committee on Employment and Social Affairs
Rapporteur: Ilda Figueiredo

Procedure : 2002/2051(COS)
Document stages in plenary
Document selected :  
A5-0158/2002
Texts tabled :
A5-0158/2002
Debates :
Votes :
Texts adopted :

PROCEDURAL PAGE

By letter of 12 October 2001, the Commission forwarded to Parliament its communication to the Council, the European Parliament, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions: Draft joint report on social inclusion (COM(2001) 565 – 2002/2051(COS)).

At the sitting of 11 March 2002 the President of Parliament announced that he had referred the communication to the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs as the committee responsible and to the Committee on Culture, Youth, Education, the Media and Sport, and the Committee on Womens Rights and Equal Opportunities for their opinions (C5‑0109/2002).

The Committee on Employment and Social Affairs had appointed Ilda Figueiredo rapporteur at its meeting of 23 October 2001.

The committee considered the Commission communication and the draft report at its meetings of 3 December 2001, 21-22 January, 18 February and 22-23 April 2002.

At the last meeting it adopted the motion for a resolution by 20 votes to 13, with 3 abstentions.

The following were present for the vote: Theodorus J.J. Bouwman, chairman; Marie-Hélène Gillig, Winfried Menrad and Marie-Thérèse Hermange, vice-chairmen; Ilda Figueiredo, rapporteur; Jan Andersson, Elspeth Attwooll, María Antonia Avilés Perea (for Raffaele Lombardo), Regina Bastos, Philip Bushill-Matthews, Alejandro Cercas, Luigi Cocilovo, Jillian Evans, Carlo Fatuzzo, Anne-Karin Glase, Richard Howitt (for Elisa Maria Damião), Stephen Hughes, Anne Elisabet Jensen (for Marco Formentini), Karin Jöns, Sylvia-Yvonne Kaufmann (for Sylviane H. Ainardi pursuant to Rule 153(2)), Dieter-Lebrecht Koch (for Miet Smet), Rodi Kratsa-Tsagaropoulou, Jean Lambert, Elizabeth Lynne, Thomas Mann, Mario Mantovani, Claude Moraes, Manuel Pérez Álvarez, Bartho Pronk, Lennart Sacrédeus, Herman Schmid, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Ieke van den Burg, Anne E.M. Van Lancker, Barbara Weiler and Sabine Zissener (for Mario Clemente Mastella).

The opinions of the Committee on Culture, Youth, Education, the Media and Sport and the Committee on Womens Rights and Equal Opportunities are attached.

The report was tabled on 30 April 2002.

The deadline for tabling amendments will be indicated in the draft agenda for the relevant part-session.

MOTION FOR A RESOLUTION

European Parliament resolution on the communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions: Draft joint report on social inclusion (COM(2001) 565 – C5‑0109/2002 – 2002/2051(COS))

The European Parliament,

–   having regard to the Commission communication (COM(2001) 565 – C5‑0109/2002[1]),

–   having regard to the joint report of the Council and the Commission on social inclusion (15223/2001[2]),

–   having regard to Rule 47(1) of its Rules of Procedure,

–   having regard to the report of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs and the opinions of the Committee on Culture, Youth, Education, the Media and Sport and the Committee on Womens Rights and Equal Opportunities (A5‑0158/2002),

–   having regard to the Platform for Action adopted at the UN Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995) and inter alia the so-called Beijing plus Five recommendations, adopted by the Special Session of the UN General Assembly (New York, June 2000),

A.   whereas at the European Councils of Lisbon, Nice and Stockholm the Member States undertook to promote sustainable development and quality employment in order to reduce the risk of poverty and social exclusion and to reinforce economic and social cohesion in the European Union by establishing a new open method of coordination in order to work together to enhance the impact on social inclusion in fields such as social protection, employment, training, health, housing and education,

B.   whereas the Nice Council meeting set out joint objectives in combating poverty and social exclusion to be put into effect by the Member States from 2001 within the framework of biennial National Action Plans against poverty and social exclusion, and whereas the European Social Agenda recognises the dual role of social policy as a productive factor and a key instrument to reduce inequalities and promote integration and social cohesion,

C.   whereas the Member States have also underlined the importance of mainstreaming equality between men and women in all actions aimed at achieving those objectives,

D.   whereas in September 2001 the European Parliament and the Council reached an agreement on the Community Action Programme to encourage cooperation between Member States to combat social exclusion which is already in force and provides for an annual Round Table conference to be held on social exclusion,

E.   whereas it welcomes the drawing-up of the first joint report on social inclusion and the establishment of a set of commonly agreed indicators, the insistence on a need to strengthen the statistical machinery and the Council's request to the Commission gradually to involve the applicant countries in this process,

F.   whereas the opinions of a number of participants, namely representatives of NGOs, the Economic and Social Committee, the CES and the national parliaments, are intended to help ensure that the conclusions can influence preparations for the second wave of the National Action Plans for inclusion,

G.   whereas in the National Action Plans, poverty in its most basic and direct form, which could be equated with monetary poverty, is frequently the consequence of other forms of deprivation or precariousness in fields such as employment, education and training, culture and access to services or arises from discrimination based on gender, age, physical condition, nationality or language, making it necessary to approach poverty and social exclusion from a multidimensional perspective,

H.   whereas the threshold for relative monetary poverty varies greatly within the Union,

I.   whereas even over the last few years in which GDP in the European Union had risen by an average of 2.5% annually, poverty and social exclusion have remained at high levels; whereas if we take 60% of the national median income as the threshold below which persons are at risk from poverty, 18% of the population of the EU were living with an income below this threshold in 1997,

J.   whereas the Member States with the most developed welfare systems and high per capita social security expenditure have often managed best to satisfy basic needs and keep the number of people in the poverty risk zone below the EU average,

K.   whereas, although it is difficult to analyse the correlation between public expenditure and social protection on the one hand and the risk of poverty on the other, it is fair to say that without social transfers, notably old age pensions, 41% of the population of the European Union would be at risk from poverty, a percentage which would still be 26% if we included old age pensions but excluded income from other social transfers,

L.   whereas current and future demographic trends necessitate adjustments to social protection systems, but there must not be any erosion of the fundamental principles on which they are based, particularly that of social solidarity,

M.   whereas increasing the participation rate, particularly among women and older workers, is an essential factor in safeguarding the financing of social security systems in future, and whereas expanding childcare and other care facilities and modernising the organisation of work could do much to help achieve this aim,

N.   whereas the structural changes that are occurring in the European Union and those that are expected – notably the transformation of the labour market, deregulations, notably in the public services sector, the very rapid growth of new information and communications technologies, and demographic changes and increased ethnic diversity caused by migration and increased mobility within the European Union – could make the weakest sectors of the population vulnerable and create new risks of discrimination, social exclusion and a resurgence of racism and xenophobia; whereas, however, the structural changes can give rise not only to risks but in some cases can also – if the right measures are taken – entail fresh opportunities for social integration,

O.   whereas the joint report recognises that additional efforts are needed to mainstream the issue of poverty and social exclusion into policy domains other than merely social protection and social assistance,

P.   whereas the equality aspect is poor in most of the national action plans,

Q.   whereas very vulnerable groups exist which are particularly affected by poverty, especially those who have special difficulties in participating in economic and social life, such as disabled people and old people who cannot look after themselves, and whereas the National Action Plans identify a set of risk factors that serve to highlight the multidimensional nature of the problem, although the intensity of the risks varies significantly between Member States and in some cases the risk factors may be the consequences – and not just the causes – of social exclusion and poverty and so it is important to break the cycle of persistent poverty or poverty passed from generation to generation and social exclusion,

R.   whereas economic and monetary policies (competition, agricultural, and fisheries policies, Stability Pact criteria, etc.) and social policies must form the three sides of the same triangle; whereas each policy must be assessed in the light of its social repercussions,

S.   whereas the disabled are a group at great risk of social exclusion; whereas there is also a lack of accurate data and common indicators in respect of the situation of the disabled in the national action plans,

T.   whereas the over-representation of women among people in poverty is caused in the first place by the lack of women’s economic self-reliance, due to the unequal distribution of paid employment and unpaid housework and caring tasks between women and men,

U.   whereas the following risks are a key focus of attention: long-term dependence on low/inadequate income; long-term unemployment; low-quality employment and a lack of work experience; poor education and illiteracy; growing up in a vulnerable family; disability; poor health; precarious housing conditions and homelessness; living in an area affected by multiple disadvantages; and immigration, racism, and discrimination,

V.   whereas the eight core challenges identified in the joint report are:

  • -developing an inclusive labour market and promoting employment as a right and opportunity for all;
  • -guaranteeing an adequate income and resources to live in human dignity;
  • -tacking educational disadvantage;
  • -preserving family solidarity and protecting the rights of children;
  • -ensuring good accommodation for all;
  • -guaranteeing equal access to high-quality services (health, transport, social, care, cultural, recreational, and legal services);
  • -improving the delivery of services;
  • -regenerating areas of multiple deprivation,

W.   whereas a free and public education system is a prerequisite of accessibility without exclusion,

1.   Reaffirms that the promotion of a high level of employment and social protection, an increase in living standards and the quality of life and economic and social cohesion must be a priority for the European Union and are fundamental in reducing and preventing poverty and social exclusion; reaffirms that the real opportunity to work and do a job constitutes the best method of integration and the best way to fight against social exclusion; believes that the Member States must undertake significant improvements in the redistribution of resources and opportunities in society in order to secure social integration, and ensure that everyone can participate in society and exercise his fundamental rights;

2.   Stresses that the common challenge facing the policies of the EU and the national governments is to ensure that the main mechanisms which redistribute opportunities and resources – the labour market, the tax systems, systems providing social protection, education, training, housing, health and other services – become sufficiently universal within the framework of structural changes, to address the needs of those persons, including old people, the disabled, the unemployed, immigrants etc., who are most at risk from poverty and social exclusion, especially children in regions and social groups in which poverty is endemic because there are no multidisciplinary approaches to tackle it, and in general the weakest and most vulnerable groups, and to enable them to exercise their fundamental rights;

3.   Considers it essential that steps are taken to ensure the public mission of actions to prevent and combat social exclusion in the education and cultural fields, including lifelong learning, language teaching, the use of new technologies and image or art-based education projects for everyone, in particular disadvantaged groups;

4.   Calls upon Member States to provide freely accessible and free compulsory education for a minimum of 12 years to all children; education should provide young people not only with basic skills, including digital skills, but also with a profound understanding of society, that will enable them to become conscious actors of social progress;

5.   Calls on the Commission and the Member States to strengthen and extend the field of application of successful pilot projects aimed at combating illiteracy, ensuring a mastery of the mother tongue and the learning of other languages;

6.   Calls on the Commission to strengthen the institution of ‘second chance’ schools, given that a large number of young people who drop out of school are unemployed;

7.   Urges the Member States to set up special educational programmes for immigrants in view of the fact that the overwhelming majority of immigrants are functionally illiterate in the basic language of the host country;

8.   Stresses the importance of modernising the social security systems to enable them to cope with traditional and new risks of poverty and social exclusion and of designing and implementing measures, inter alia in the form of social benefits, for single mothers that boost their earning capacities and their reintegration into the labour market;

9.   Highlights the importance of the eight core challenges identified in the joint report on the National Action Plans and calls for a more thorough process of information, consultation and participation in drawing up, following up and evaluating these plans at national, regional and local level with the involvement of not only national but also regional and local institutions, as well as the NGOs, the social and economic operators and partners and bodies representing persons who are excluded or at risk from exclusion; points out in particular that the national and regional parliaments of the Member States must also play a role in drawing up, overseeing, and assessing the National Action Plans for social inclusion;

10.   Welcomes the approval by the Employment and Social Affairs Council on 3 December 2001 of a set of 18 indicators relating to income, access to the labour market, health and upbringing; calls on the Member States to make additional efforts to enable indicators likewise to be compiled in other fields of policy, such as housing; calls on the Council and Commission, in cooperation with the European Parliament, to flesh out these proposals;

11.   Considers that the open method of coordination must embrace greater openness by involving local and regional authorities, labour and management and by ensuring a broad public debate at national level to achieve a genuine exchange of best practice;

12.   Calls on the Commission, in the synthesis report for the 2003 spring summit and in compiling the structural indicators, to take greater account of social cohesion; calls on the Commission and Council, in preparation for the 2003 spring summit, to draft a report on poverty in the Union and the candidate countries;

13.   Calls on the Commission and the Council, together with the European Parliament, to negotiate an interinstitutional agreement on the open method of coordination with a view to the full involvement of Parliament in open coordination;

14.   Reaffirms the need for an integrated and multidimensional strategic approach based on the objectives set out in Nice to ensure added value in combating poverty and social exclusion, an approach incorporating clear priorities and specific aims and objectives and appropriate policies and measures accompanied by the corresponding budgetary amounts and resources;

15.   Highlights the importance of implementing the Community Action Programme to encourage cooperation between Member States to combat social exclusion, notably by holding an annual Round Table Conference on social exclusion, and emphasises its support for the development of exchanges of good practices and innovative approaches and reinforcing the statistical machinery and the networking of national observatories;

16.   Calls on the Member States, whatever their national political and administrative set-up, to ensure that policies are put into place as close to the individual as possible, and clear lines of responsibility drawn between the different levels of competence;

17.   Stresses that the political measures required to increase social integration should be formulated and implemented as close to the people concerned as possible;

18.   Calls on the Member States to develop mechanisms to assess the impact of general policies on poverty and social exclusion;

19.   Calls for greater attention to those structural changes that are currently taking place and others which are expected in future, including the accession of the applicant states, and which could engender new forms of poverty stemming from industrial restructuring and the switch to social systems characteristic of a competition-driven economy; considers that the above changes need to be tackled as a matter of urgency, focusing in particular on the long-term unemployed, workers who have retired on a bridging pension, and persons not working who have no opportunity to enter the labour market;

20.   Stresses that the national action plans must take a proactive approach, achieving a comprehensive view by linking and coordinating different areas of policy;

21.   Believes that the Member States must adopt inclusion (or exclusion) strategies to ensure that the potential of ICT can be exploited to the full to help open the way to more highly skilled jobs and new services designed to enable specific groups to benefit from the economic and social opportunities offered by ICT;

22.   Emphasises that the strategy to combat poverty and social exclusion must pay particular heed to the situation of women and children and be primarily focused on promoting a higher standard of living for vulnerable groups most affected by poverty and most at risk of social exclusion, taking into account their experiences; and calls on the Commission and the Member States to ensure that the dissemination of examples of good practice is accompanied by contextual elements and evaluations in order to facilitate the dialogue between the players of the various countries and the tangible improvement of practices;

23.   Requests the Commission to launch an in-depth study of the extent of economic independence or autonomy of women in the European Union, especially those with family responsibilities, taking into account the various types of household of which women form part and the consecutive phases of their life cycles;

24.   Requests the Commission to incorporate the sexual division of labour as an independent key factor in its analytical framework for the social inclusion policy programme and to include the economic self-reliance of women, particularly those with family responsibilities, among its main goals;

25.   Calls on the Member States not only to mainstream a gender perspective in their policies and programmes and to break down their data by sex, but also to promote the economic self-reliance of women as a priority of their social inclusion policy approach and to report on the progress made in this respect;

26.   Calls on the Commission and the Member States to promote the reconciliation of work and family life in such a way that women get the opportunity to earn sustainable incomes guaranteeing their economic autonomy and autonomous social security;

27.   Calls on the Commission and the Member States also to promote social-infrastructure measures, for example relating to childcare, voluntary work and public transport in rural areas, in order to make it easier for women to combine work and family life;

28.   Calls on the Commission and the Member States to integrate combating violence against women and safeguarding their reproductive and sexual rights into their social inclusion policy strategies, as these are essential factors supporting womens self-reliance and empowerment;

29.   Calls on the Commission and the Member States to promote equal treatment for workers in precarious and ‘atypical’ employment;

30.   Stresses the importance of involving the applicant countries as soon as possible in the social integration strategy and of their drawing up their own national action plans in order to increase social integration;

31.   Calls for particular attention to be paid to all the risk factors identified by the National Action Plans which serve to highlight the multidimensional nature of poverty and social exclusion, which is not restricted to access to the labour market, but also concerns education, health and participation in decision-making forums;

32.   Calls on the Member States to take a global approach in their National Action Plans, to lay down clear priorities, to draw clear distinctions between the responsibilities granted to national, regional and local authorities and to set long-term quantitative targets;

33.   Calls on the Council, the Commission and the Member States to develop indicators to gauge changes in the daily lives of those persons of every social class and age-bracket who live in poverty and indicators on which to base dynamic analysis of the processes that reduce people to poverty or enable them to emerge from it, thereby making it possible not only to observe trends in the social situation in the various EU countries and, gradually, in the applicant countries, but also to warn of and monitor trends in the social situation as regards poverty and social exclusion in particular; urges also that gender-relevant indicators of poverty be developed and implemented, i.e. not only to measure household incomes, but also to pay due attention to the individual incomes of the different members of a household;

34.   Calls on the Council, the Commission, and the Member States to gauge the potential impact of economic and monetary policies, including the Stability Pact, on social matters (employment, poverty and social exclusion, equal rights and opportunities, etc.) in order to gear them to the social aims laid down at successive European Councils and reaffirms that, although the Structural Funds have an important role to play in cohesion policy, the need for greater economic and social cohesion has to be borne in mind in every decision relating to the various Community policies;

35.   Calls on the Social Protection Committee to submit to the Council by 2002 common indicators linked to the various forms and dimensions of social exclusion, such as quality of health care and access to it, education and housing, and the gender dimension;

36.   Calls on the Commission to include, when drafting the joint annual report on social inclusion, an assessment of the effectiveness and value for money of the policies already in place in the Member States to combat poverty;

37.   Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council and Commission and the parliaments of the Member States.

  • [1] Not yet published in OJ.
  • [2] Not yet published in OJ.

EXPLANATORY STATEMENT

I - Background

At the European Councils of Lisbon (March 2000), Nice (December 2000) and Stockholm (July 2001) the Member States made a commitment to promote sustainable development and quality employment in order to contribute towards reducing the risk of poverty and social exclusion and strengthening economic and social cohesion in the European Union between 2001 and 2010.

On the basis of the new open method of coordination which encourages the Member States to work together to enhance the impact on social inclusion of policies in fields such as social protection, employment, health, housing and education, the Nice Council set the following joint objectives in combating poverty and social exclusion:

-   to facilitate participation in employment and access by all to the resources, rights, goods and services which are essential to live in dignity;

-   to prevent the risks of exclusion;

-   to help the most vulnerable;

-   to mobilise all relevant bodies.

It was also agreed that Member States should take practical measures to meet these objectives from 2001 within the framework of the biennial National Action Plans against poverty and social exclusion, and the importance of mainstreaming equality between men and women in all actions aimed at achieving these objectives was underlined.

The European Social Agenda was also adopted. This recognises the dual role of social policy – as a productive factor and as a key instrument to reduce inequalities and promote social cohesion – which must be implemented more rapidly, as Parliament has argued.

In September 2001 an agreement was reached between the European Parliament and the Council on a Community Action Programme to encourage cooperation between the Member States in combating social exclusion which provides for an annual Round Table conference on social exclusion to be organised in close collaboration with the Presidency of the Council and prepared in consultation with all players, inter alios, the social partners, representatives of non-governmental organisations with experience in this field and representatives of the European Parliament, the Council, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions.

Under this Community programme the Commission submits an annual report to the spring European Council. Parliament also gives its opinion in good time on this report, in particular on the overall relationship between policies and social cohesion, including progress achieved within the framework of the programme in question.

The following measures were equally important: the decision taken at the Laeken Council concerns the organisation of a social summit before each spring European Council, the establishment of a set of common indicators, the insistence on the need to consolidate the statistical machinery and the request made to the Commission gradually to involve the applicant countries in this process.

II - The joint report on social inclusion

The joint report on social inclusion which is based on the proposal submitted by the Commission in October 2001 evaluating the 15 National Action Plans on social inclusion seeks to identify good practice and innovative approaches of common interest in combating poverty and social exclusion.

In the report the Commission asserts that the terms povertyand social exclusionrefer to situations in which persons are prevented from participating fully in economic, social and civil life and/or have inadequate access to income and other resources (personal, family, social and cultural) so that they are excluded from enjoying a standard of living and quality of life which are considered acceptable by the society in which they live. Persons living in these circumstances are very often unable fully to exercise their rights.

The broad range of social policy systems in the Member States has engendered a number of different approaches in the National Action Plans. Although there are considerable variations, very often monetary poverty is accompanied by other forms of deprivation or precariousness in the fields of employment, housing, health, education, culture and access to services, and poverty and social exclusion.

An analysis of overall trends reveals that even over the last few years in which the European Union enjoyed an average rate of growth of 2.5% of GDP, poverty and social exclusion remained at high levels. If we take 60% of the national median income[1] as the threshold below which persons are deemed to be a risk from poverty, some 18% of the population of the European Union were living in households with an income below this threshold in 1997; this percentage is much the same as in 1995, a situation exacerbated by the fact that this threshold varies between EUR 12 060 in Luxembourg and EUR 2 870 in Portugal. This means that over 60 million persons were living in poverty and that half of these were living below this threshold for three consecutive years (1995-1997), a situation which is particularly serious in some Member States.

Although it is difficult to analyse the correlation between public expenditure, social protection and the risk of poverty, the lowest poverty rates are found in Denmark (8%), Finland (9%), Luxembourg and Sweden (12%), Austria and the Netherlands (13%) and Germany (14%), countries with levels of per capita spending on social protection that are higher and far above the European average, while the highest poverty rates are in Portugal (23%), the United Kingdom and Greece (22%), Ireland (20%), Spain and Italy (19%) where levels of per capita social protection spending are generally below the average.

Without social transfers, in particular old age pensions, 41% of the population of the European Union would be at risk from poverty. The percentage would still be 26% if oldage pensions were included but income from other social transfers were excluded.

The structural changes that are currently taking place in the European Union and other structural changes that are expected in future – in the pipeline, in particular changes in the labour market, the risks due to new deregulation measures, particularly in the public service; the very rapid growth of new information and communication technologies, demographic change, changes in the structure of family groups and the role of men and women and increased ethnic, cultural and religious diversity resulting from the international migration and increased mobility within the European Union – are creating new risks of discrimination, social exclusion and a resurgence of racism and xenophobia.

Some groups are particularly vulnerable to and affected by poverty, namely the unemployed, persons living in industrial zones in decline and certain rural areas, persons living alone in open environments, in particular elderly women, one-parent families (mainly women), large families, immigrants, refugees, alcoholics and drug addicts, and above all children, the disabled and young people among whom unemployment runs at 16%, or almost twice the Community average.

The National Action Plans identify a set of risk factors that serve to highlight the multidimensional nature of the problem, given that persons – both adults and children – are affected by poverty and social exclusion owing to a combination of these risks, although the intensity of the risks vary significantly between Member States, and in some cases the risk factors may be the consequences – and not the just the causes – of poverty and social exclusion. In any case, it is important to break the cycle of persistent poverty and social exclusion.

The following risks are particularly relevant: prolonged dependence on a low/inadequate income; long-term unemployment; low-quality employment and the absence of professional experience; inadequate training and illiteracy; growing up in a vulnerable family; disabilities; precarious health; precarious housing and homelessness; living in an area affected by multiple disadvantages; immigration, racism and discrimination.

In analysing the content of the report, the proposals contained in the National Action Plans, the methods used, the procedures followed and the actions which are actually practicable or have already been implemented on the basis of the four objectives set out in Nice, it was intended to consult the opinions of most of those involved.

The Committee on Employment and Social Affairs thus heard representatives of NGOs, the Economic and Social Committee and the CES and held discussions with representatives of the national parliaments. Various organisations were asked for their views, notably: FEANTSA, the European Womens Lobby, the EAPN[2], FERPA, Quart Monde and Euronet so that the conclusions could influence preparations for the second wave of plans.

Particular attention should be paid to the warnings given by a number of national members of parliament on proposals being mooted in their countries to reduce existing levels of social protection, the lack of government information, the inadequate dialogue and participation of the various institutions and organisations involving persons affected by or at risk from poverty and social exclusion and the weak financial basis for the measures proposed by the Member States in the respective plans.

Emphasis was also given to the common challenge facing policies of the EU and the national governments to ensure that the main mechanisms which redistribute opportunities and resources – the labour market, the tax system, social protection systems, education, housing, health and other services – become sufficiently universal, within the framework of structural changes, to address the needs of those persons, whether they be men, women, young people or children, who are most at risk from poverty and social exclusion to enable them to exercise their fundamental rights.

Special importance was attached to addressing the eight principal challenges identified in the joint report on the National Action Plans:

-   to develop an inclusive labour market and promote employment, as a right and opportunity for all;

-   to guarantee an adequate income level and resources to live in human dignity;

-   to tackle educational disadvantage;

-   to preserve family solidarity and protect the rights of children;

-   to ensure good accommodation for all;

-   to guarantee equal access to high-quality services (health, transport, social, care, cultural, recreational and legal);

-   to improve the delivery of services;

-   to regenerate areas of multiple deprivation.

Emphasis was given to the need for an integrated and multidimensional strategic approach based on the objectives set out in Nice to ensure increased value in combating poverty and social exclusion. Independently of the specific circumstances of each Member State, this must mean that in developing the National Action Plans particular importance must be given to clear priorities, setting specific goals and targets, developing appropriate policies and implementing the necessary measures with appropriate budgetary resources.

Finally, particular importance was attached to implementing the Community Action Programme to promote cooperation between the Member States to combat social exclusion despite its established shortcomings, namely by holding an annual Round Table conference on social exclusion, encouraging the development of exchanges of good practice and innovative approaches, and consolidating the statistical machinery so as to ensure the continuous monitoring of the entire European strategy for combating poverty and social exclusion.

  • [1] In most countries the amount corresponding to 60% of the median income is identical to 50% of the average income.
  • [2] Your rapporteur also took part in a discussion organised by the EAPN at the end of last year in the European Parliament on the National Action Plans on social inclusion.

OPINION OF THE COMMITTEE ON CULTURE, YOUTH, EDUCATION, THE MEDIA AND SPORT

18 April 2002

for the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs

on the communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions: Draft joint report on social inclusion

(COM(2001) 565 – C5-0109/2002 – 2002/2051(COS))

Draftsman: Konstantinos Alyssandrakis

PROCEDURE

The Committee on Culture, Youth, Education, the Media and Sport appointed Konstantinos Alyssandrakis draftsman at its meeting of 12 December 2001.

The committee considered the draft opinion at its meetings of 25 March and 17 April 2002.

At the latter meeting it adopted the following conclusions unanimously.

The following were present for the vote: Michel Rocard, chairman; Vasco Graça Moura, vice-chairman; Mario Mauro, vice-chairman, Theresa Zabell, vice-chairman; Konstantinos Alyssandrakis, draftsman; Alexandros Alavanos, Ole Andreasen (for Marieke Sanders-ten Holte), Pedro Aparicio Sánchez, Christopher J.P. Beazley, Giuseppe Brienza (for Francis Decourrière), Christine De Veyrac (for Marielle De Sarnez), Geneviève Fraisse, Maria Martens, Pietro-Paolo Mennea, Domenico Mennitti, Juan Ojeda Sanz, Barbara OToole, Christa Prets, Giorgio Ruffolo, Gianni Vattimo, Stavros Xarchakos, Sabine Zissener and Myrsini Zorba (for Lissy Gröner).

SHORT JUSTIFICATION

The Commission Communication presents itself as a political document on poverty and social exclusion. This is a draft joint report which forms part of the strategy drawn up at the Lisbon, Stockholm and Nice summits and which was adopted by the Council during the Belgian Presidency. It aims to help reinforce the strategy of social cohesion between 2001 and 2010 through interventions at Community, national, regional and local levels in the fields of employment, housing, health, education, culture etc. The Communication points out the alarming fact that, although the Community GNP increased by 2.5% during the last few years, there has been no progress in the reduction of poverty and social exclusion, with poverty affecting more than 60 million people.

In principle there is no room for bureaucracy or rhetoric in such a strategy. It must be implemented on the basis of:

  • *a profound and thorough analysis of the reasons for social exclusion,
  • *concrete measures that will eventually eliminate the origins of exclusion,
  • *active participation of the social groups and operators involved, of the popular movement and of society as a whole,
  • *an interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approach,
  • *innovative cooperation at the level of national, regional and local administrations.

It is essential to provide for a long-term strategy which, on the basis of common and shared criteria, can make a significant and lasting impact. Pilot actions and exchanges of practices are useful instruments, but they are not enough. The current process must be speeded up, since it is too slow and inadequate in view of the way society is currently developing, through an increased mobilisation of the popular movement.

As regards our committee in particular, it is clear that education, as a means of social integration and inclusion, has a very important role to play, while cultural aspects in a broad sense can be very valuable in preventing social exclusion. It is essential that education should not only provide young people with basic skills, but also with a complete understanding of nature and society that will enable them to become conscious actors of social progress. It is also important to note that education in itself is not sufficient to ensure social inclusion, unless it is accompanied by measures that guarantee full-time and stable employment for all.

Nevertheless, even in the fields of culture and education, it is essential to establish a broad consensus on the definition of objectives, in line with the actual needs of the persons involved and not only with the requirements of economic competitiveness. In this sense, the public mission of the education and cultural services must be guaranteed and strengthened. In particular, a public and free system of compulsory basic education of at least 12 years, accessible to all children, is indispensable, together with a public and free system of higher education.

CONCLUSIONS

The Committee on Culture, Youth, Education, the Media and Sport calls on the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, as the committee responsible, to incorporate the following points in its motion for a resolution:

1.   Considers that the fight against social exclusion should be based on a thorough and profound analysis of its origins;

2.   Considers that in combating social exclusion practical measures are needed in all areas in which this phenomenon may exist or has been identified;

3.   Considers that education, culture and sport are major factors of social inclusion;

4.   Considers that a free and public education system is a prerequisite of accessibility without exclusions;

5.   Considers that within the framework of the specific actions to combat and prevent social exclusion, direct exchanges of experience should be encouraged since they may stimulate thinking in this area and make it easier to understand structural changes in contemporary society;

6.   Considers it essential that steps are taken to ensure the public mission of actions to prevent and combat social exclusion in the education and cultural fields, including lifelong learning, language teaching, and image or art-based education projects for everyone, in particular disadvantaged groups;

7.   Calls upon Member States to provide freely accessible and free compulsory education for a minimum of 12 years to all children; education should provide young people not only with basic skills, including digital skills, but also with a profound understanding of society, that will enable them to become conscious actors of social progress;

8.   Calls on Member States, in education, to devote sufficient attention to sport in all its facets, as it is an efficient way of helping to promote social integration;

9.   Considers that the creation of a broad basis of participation of the popular movement and the operators involved in the general strategy of combating exclusion may be accompanied, in carrying out practical measures, by the introduction of flexible management systems and effective democratic control instruments;

10.   Calls on the Commission and the Member States to strengthen and extend the field of application of successful pilot projects aimed at combating illiteracy, ensuring a mastery of the mother tongue and the learning of other languages.

11.   Calls on the Commission to strengthen the institution of ‘second chance’ schools, given that a large number of young people who drop out of school are unemployed;

12.   Urges the Member States to set up special educational programmes for immigrants in view of the fact that the overwhelming majority of immigrants are functionally illiterate in the basic language of the host country.

OPINION OF THE COMMITTEE ON WOMEN’'S RIGHTS AND EQUAL OPPORTUNITIES

11 March 2002

for the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs

on the communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions: Draft joint report on social inclusion

(COM(2001) 565 – C5-0109/2002 – 2002/2051(COS))

Draftsperson: Joke Swiebel

PROCEDURE

The Committee on Womens Rights and Equal Opportunities appointed Joke Swiebel draftsperson at its meeting of 22 January 2002.

It considered the draft opinion at its meetings of 25 and 26 February 2002.

At the latter meeting it adopted the following conclusions unanimously.

The following were present for the vote: Anna Karamanou, chairman; Jillian Evans, vice-chairman; Joke Swiebel, draftsperson; María Antonia Avilés Perea, Regina Bastos, Lone Dybkjær, Fiorella Ghilardotti, Lissy Gröner, Heidi Anneli Hautala, Rodi Kratsa-Tsagaropoulou, Maria Martens, Amalia Sartori, Miet Smet, Patsy Sörensen, Helena Torres Marques, Feleknas Uca and Ilda Figueiredo.

SHORT JUSTIFICATION

The Commission has to be commended for this first comprehensive policy document on poverty and social exclusion. It rightly highlights the key role of participation in employment as the main strategy to overcome poverty and exclusion.

This policy approach is particularly relevant for women, who on average tend to be under-represented and discriminated against in the labour market. The report also underlines the dual role of social policy: it not only promotes social cohesion, but also has a productive side. Enhancing the productivity and earning capacity of disadvantaged groups promotes their economic self-reliance. This has a favourable effect on government budgets and promotes prosperity and economic growth.

The Commission has made a laudable attempt to mainstream a gender perspective into this report. One might ask, however, whether this attempt is really well thought-out and reflects the accumulated insights and knowledge available in this field.

In line with the European Employment Strategy, the objectives mentioned in the present report include employment for all men and women and promoting the reconciliation of work and family life (English version, p. 26). The report fails to mention, however, that the unequal distribution of paid employment and unpaid housework and caring tasks between women and men is the key factor that causes women’s over-representation among people in poverty. Women’s poverty is directly linked to their lack of economic opportunities and self-reliance. Economic autonomy for women has to be promoted through gainful employment that generates a sustainable income for themselves and their dependants. The empowerment of women therefore is a critical factor in the eradication of poverty.

This is not a theoretical refinement for the sake of the argument. The approach quoted here[1] has the following logical consequences.

Firstly, the gender distribution of roles and tasks in society should be included in the list of main mechanisms which distribute opportunities and resources. A gender analysis of the distributive effects of the labour market, the tax system, social security, education, housing etc. on poverty is needed, but first and foremost ‘the sex-gender system’[2] itself (as either sustained or challenged by the state) must be looked at as the most decisive factor causing poverty among women.

Secondly, the poverty indicators used in this exercise – if looked at from a gender perspective – are irrelevant or false. The ‘relative poverty rate’, defined as the proportion of individuals living in households where income is below 60 % of the national equalised median income, is blind to the distribution of resources and power within the family. As a logical consequence of this false approach, the overall gender gap in poverty seems small.[3] All political attention therefore is directed at the gender gaps in poverty that do become visible by this approach, i.e. the relative poverty rate for older women living alone and for single mothers. Measures directed at these groups may be socially justified, but are nothing more than locking the stable door after the horse has bolted. The real cause of the relatively high poverty among single mothers and older women is their lack of economic opportunities and independence during previous parts of their lives, especially during marriage.

Thirdly, in order to combat poverty among women, the strategy of promoting women’s labour market participation and reconciling work and family life is only one half of the answer. Women’s labour market participation should give them sustainable incomes, which underpin their autonomy and empowerment. Policy packages that emphasise part-time work and leave arrangements too much may be detrimental for sustaining women’s earning capacity throughout their lives. ‘Reconciling work and family’ should be understood to mean that both men and women could combine individually their respective paid employment and housework and caring tasks. This would prevent one partner becoming an indispensable ‘tool’ for the career of the other, with all the well-known consequences for the economic autonomy of the latter.

CONCLUSIONS

The Committee on Womens Rights and Equal Opportunities calls on the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, as the committee responsible, to incorporate the following points in its motion for a resolution:

A.   having regard to the Platform for Action adopted at the UN Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995) and inter alia the so-called Beijing plus Five recommendations, adopted by the Special Session of the UN General Assembly (New York, June 2000),

B.   whereas the over-representation of women among people in poverty is caused in the first place by the lack of women’s economic self-reliance, due to the unequal distribution of paid employment and unpaid housework and caring tasks between women and men,

1.   Requests the Commission to launch an in-depth study of the extent of economic independence or autonomy of women in the European Union, especially those with family responsibilities, taking into account the various types of household of which women make part and the consecutive phases of their life cycles;

2.   Requests the Commission to incorporate the sexual division of labour as an independent key factor in its analytical framework for the social inclusion policy programme and to include the economic self-reliance of women, particularly those with family responsibilities, among its main goals;

3.   Calls on the Member States not only to mainstream a gender perspective in their policies and programmes and to break down their data by sex, but also to promote the economic self-reliance of women as a priority of their social inclusion policy approach and to report on the progress made in this respect;

4.   Urges the Commission and the Member States to develop and implement gender-relevant indicators of poverty, i.e. not only measure household incomes but also pay due attention to the individual incomes of the different members of a household;

5.   Calls on the Commission and the Member States to promote the reconciliation of work and family life in such a way that women get the opportunity to earn sustainable incomes guaranteeing their economic autonomy and autonomous social security;

6.   Calls on the Commission and the Member States also to promote social-infrastructure measures, for example relating to childcare, voluntary work and public transport in rural areas, in order to make it easier for women to combine work and family life;

7.   Calls on the Commission and the Member States to integrate combating violence against women and safeguarding their reproductive and sexual rights into their social inclusion policy strategies, as these are essential factors supporting womens self-reliance and empowerment;

8.   Calls on the Commission and the Member States to promote equal treatment for workers in precarious and atypical' employment;

9.   Calls on the Member States to promote pensions systems based on individual rights and to design and implement measures, inter alia in the form of social benefits, for single mothers that boost their earning capacities and their reintegration into the labour market.

  • [1] Based on the Beijing Platform for Action (1995), the Beijing plus Five review (2000), the World Bank reports ‘Engendering Development (2000) etc.
  • [2] The unequal shares of men and women in the worlds of paid and unpaid work and the ideologies and perceptions on which this inequality is based.
  • [3] The Commission seems to realise there is a pitfall here (see footnote 3 on page 12 (English version)), but does not draw the logical conclusion. Your draftsperson would recommend to look into the Gender-related Development Index (GDI), designed by UNDP. See: Human Development Report (New York, 1995).