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Procedure : 2002/2051(COS)
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Tuesday, 11 June 2002 - Strasbourg
Social inclusion

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&nbhy;0109/2002),

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

–   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),

–   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 Women"s Rights and Equal Opportunities (A5&nbhy;0158/2002),

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,

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, ETUC 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 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,

L.   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,

M.   whereas the structural changes that are occurring in the European Union and those that are expected – notably the transformation of the labour market, 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,

N.   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,

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

P.   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,

Q.   whereas economic and monetary policies and social policies must form the three sides of the same triangle;

R.   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,

S.   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,

T.   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,

U.   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 who wish to work;
   - guaranteeing an adequate income and resources to live in human dignity;
   - tackling 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,

V.   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;

2.  Stresses that the common challenge facing the policies of the EU and the national governments is to become sufficiently universal within the framework of structural changes to address most of all the needs of those persons, including old people, the disabled, the unemployed, immigrants, children etc., who are most at risk from poverty and social exclusion, and to enable them to exercise their fundamental rights;

3.  Stresses therefore that all forms of employment are to be encouraged, and strongly agrees with the Commission that it is important "to lay the foundations for further development of the temporary work sector, in order to promote job creation and make agency work more attractive", given that this sector can represent a unique opportunity for many of those unwilling to seek, or unable to find, permanent full-time employment;

4.  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;

5.  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 IT skills, but also with a profound understanding of society, that will enable them to become conscious agents of social progress;

6.  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;

7.  Calls on the Member States to strengthen the institution of 'second chance' schools, given that a large number of young people who drop out of school are unemployed;

8.  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;

9.  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 parents that boost their earning capacities and their reintegration into the labour market;

10.  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;

11.  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;

12.  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;

13.  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;

14.  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;

15.  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;

16.  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;

17.  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;

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

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

20.  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 candidate countries, 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;

21.  Stresses that the National Action Plans must take a proactive approach, achieving a comprehensive view by linking and coordinating different areas of policy;

22.  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;

23.  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;

24.  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;

25.  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;

26.  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;

27.  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;

28.  Calls on 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;

29.  Calls on the Commission and the Member States to integrate combating violence against women and children into their social inclusion policy strategies;

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

31.  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 inclusion;

32.  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;

33.  Requests 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;

34.  Calls on the Council, the Commission, and the Member States to gauge the potential impact of economic policies, inter alia 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.

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