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Wednesday, 15 March 2006 - Strasbourg
Social protection and inclusion

European Parliament resolution on social protection and social inclusion (2005/2097(INI))

The European Parliament,

–   having regard to the Commission communication entitled 'Draft Joint Report on Social Protection and Social Inclusion' (COM(2005)0014),

–   having regard to the Commission staff working paper entitled 'Annex to the Draft Joint Report on Social Protection and Social Inclusion' (SEC(2005)0069),

–   having regard to the Commission staff working paper on social inclusion in the new Member States: a synthesis of the joint memoranda on social inclusion (SEC(2004)0848),

–   having regard to the Presidency Conclusions of the Brussels European Council of 22 and 23 March 2005,

–   having regard to its resolution of 9 March 2005 on the mid-term review of the Lisbon strategy(1),

–   having regard to the Presidency Conclusions of the Santa Maria da Feira European Council of 19 and 20 June 2000 and especially to the agreement that indicators should be defined as common references in the fight against social exclusion and the eradication of poverty,

–   having regard to the Commission communication on the Social Agenda (COM(2005)0033),

–   having regard to Council Decision 2005/600/EC of 12 July 2005 on Guidelines for the employment policies of the Member States(2),

–   having regard to Decision No 50/2002/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 7 December 2001 establishing a programme of Community action to encourage cooperation between Member States to combat social exclusion(3),

–   having regard to Article 27(1) of the United Nation's Convention on the Rights of the Child by which the States Parties recognise the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child's physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development,

–   having regard to Article 27(2) and (3) of the United Nation's Convention on the Rights of the Child recognising parents' primary responsibility in this issue and governments' roles in taking appropriate measures to assist them to implement this right and, in case of need, provide material assistance and support programmes, particularly with regard to nutrition, clothing and housing,

–   having regard to the Commission communication on Strengthening the social dimension of the Lisbon strategy: Streamlining open coordination in the field of social protection (COM(2003)0261),

–   having regard to the Commission communication on modernising social protection for the development of high-quality, accessible and sustainable health care and long-term care: support for the national strategies using the "open method of coordination" (COM(2004)0304),

–   having regard to the Commission Green Paper entitled "Confronting demographic change: a new solidarity between the generations" (COM(2005)0094),

–   having regard to its resolution of 11 June 2002 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(4),

–   having regard to its resolution of 5 June 2003 on the application of the open method of coordination(5),

–   having regard to its resolution of 24 September 2003 on the Joint Report by the Commission and the Council on adequate and sustainable pensions(6),

–   having regard to its resolution of 28 April 2005 on modernising social protection and developing good quality health care(7),

–   having regard to its resolution of 26 May 2005 on the Social Agenda for the period 2006-2010(8),

–   having regard to its resolution of 9 June 2005 on social inclusion in the new Member States(9),

–   having regard to Rule 45 of its Rules of Procedure,

–   having regard to the report of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs and the opinion of the Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality (A6-0028/2006),

A.   whereas, at the Lisbon European Council in March 2000, the European Union set out a comprehensive strategy aimed at long-term economic growth, full employment, social cohesion and sustainable development in a knowledge-based society based on know-how and innovation; whereas five years later the objectives of that strategy remain far from being achieved,

B.   whereas, at the Nice European Council in 2000, the Member States undertook to show a significant and measurable reduction in poverty and social exclusion by the year 2010,

C.   whereas social inclusion is a matter of human dignity, as a fundamental right,

D.   whereas, under certain conditions, social inclusion may make a direct and telling contribution to economic development,

E.   whereas social inclusion is a matter of social cohesion, a basic value of the European Union and a tool for combating social exclusion and discrimination that means fighting against wasting human resources and the severe consequences of demographic change,

F.   whereas, according to statistics from OECD sources, the population of the countries belonging to that organisation is ageing and, while there are currently 38 people in retirement for every 100 workers, if employment policy remains unchanged this figure could rise to as many as 70 people in retirement for every 100 workers,

G.   whereas the modernisation of social protection should not just be about ensuring financial sustainability, but sharing risks that individuals cannot face on their own and promoting economic growth and employment so as to make them sustainable,

H.   reaffirming, therefore, that social protection based on universality, equity and solidarity is an essential component of the European social model,

General points

1.  Welcomes the abovementioned joint report which covers both social protection and social inclusion for the first time at the level of the EU-25 and which looks at the progress of the Member States towards achieving the objectives agreed by the Lisbon European Council; notes that the report aims at making key inroads into the fight against social exclusion and the eradication of poverty by 2010 and also at helping Member States to reform social protection systems with a view to ensuring their ability to provide high-quality services and their adequacy and sustainability in the future;

2.  Notes that the joint report states that the fight against poverty and social exclusion remains a major challenge for the Union and its Member States, as the income-based figures relating to poverty and social exclusion across the Union are very significant, with more than 68 million, or 15% of the EU population living at risk of poverty in 2002;

3.  Notes that, despite significant structural improvements in the EU labour markets over the last decade, EU employment and participation levels remain insufficient and unemployment remains high in a number of Member States, especially amongst certain categories of people, such as the young, older workers, women, and people with specific disadvantages; notes also that labour market exclusion has a national but also a local and regional dimension;

4.  Draws attention to the fact that the recent economic slowdown, with rising unemployment and fewer job opportunities, puts more people at risk of poverty and exclusion and worsens the position of those already affected; this is particularly the case in some Member States that suffer from long-term unemployment or inactivity;

5.  Emphasises that employment must be viewed as the most effective safeguard against poverty and, consequently, that the financial attractiveness of work should be maintained through incentives for the employment of women and the setting of qualitative objectives for the jobs that are offered;

Social inclusion

6.  Considers that efforts against poverty and social exclusion must be sustained and extended to improve the situation of those people most at risk of poverty and exclusion, such as those in casual employment, the unemployed, single parent households (usually headed by women), older people living alone, women, families with several dependants, disadvantaged children, as well as ethnic minorities, sick or disabled people, the homeless, victims of trafficking and victims of drug and alcohol dependency;

7.  Considers it crucial to recognise the difficulties faced by people at a disadvantage, including disabled people, ethnic minorities and immigrants, in accessing or remaining on the labour market; calls on the Member States to support the integration of people at a disadvantage in order to prevent and combat social exclusion, as well as to promote education, encourage job creation, professional training and career development, the reconciliation of professional and family life and the right to equal access to health care and decent accommodation and ensure the sustainability of social protection systems; points in this regard to the necessity of improving comparable data;

8.  Highlights the fact that tackling disadvantages in education and training and improving the qualifications of the labour force regardless of age, for men and women and ethnic and national minorities, are key tools for combating unemployment; notes also that addressing those inequalities is of particular importance for achieving the Lisbon targets regarding employment, quality of work and social inclusion;

9.  Stresses in this respect that, as regards the Roma minority, it is desirable that members of that minority be given every motivation to have an interest in the further education of their children, the development of their children's positive qualities and skills;

10.  Calls on the Member States to exchange best practice to prevent early departure from education, raise the level of education, especially in languages and new technologies, facilitate the transition from school to work, increase access to education and training for disadvantaged groups, including less skilled and older workers, and lay the ground for access to lifelong learning for all; stresses that these strategies should involve all the stakeholders concerned, including the social partners, but also civil society and learning providers, while reserving a key role for the state in guaranteeing high-quality public education;

11.  Recommends that, in order to limit the exclusion of persons over the age of 50 and to help them remain on the job market, Member States guard against the risks of exclusion from the world of work by developing access to lifelong learning;

12.  Considers, in this respect, that, given the benefits that a qualified workforce brings to employers, it goes without saying that employers should be more involved in the process of lifelong learning;

13.  Points out, however, that in certain cases neither a sufficient level of education nor repeated requalification guarantee employment; emphasises, therefore, the need to make greater use of not-for-profit public service work;

14.  Stresses that in fourteen out of the seventeen Member States for which data are available(10) child poverty rose during the 1990s; draws attention to the fact that persistent child poverty mainly concentrates on single-parent families, large families with three or more dependent children, immigrants and people from ethnic minorities, and families with unemployed or under-employed parents; stresses that priority attention at EU and Member State level should be given to the prevention and elimination of the intergenerational transmission of poverty and that this should be underpinned by appropriate financial resources (such as increased use of the Structural Funds, especially the European Social Fund); underlines that indicators have to be approached from the child's perspective and that of people living alone, even if it is known that child poverty cannot be reduced without reducing household poverty and ensuring access to high-quality services for all;

15.  Points out that, according to Eurostat sources, a third of births in the EU now occur outside the institution of marriage and this figure is increasing annually; considers that this trend bears witness to the need to find effective mechanisms to promote the proper functioning of different types of family as an institution;

16.  Considers that social services dealing with children and childcare are an important precondition for the prevention and reduction of child poverty, social exclusion and discrimination, and the facilitation of the reconciliation of work and family life; stresses the need to ensure easy and equal access to education for all children; recognises the vital role of private operators in supplying services in this regard;

17.  Calls on the Commission to put forward a Green Paper on child poverty, setting out clear targets and appropriate measures to eliminate child poverty as steps towards the social inclusion of poor children;

18.  Calls on the Commission to step up its efforts to introduce a "Children's Charter" that seeks to achieve progress in upholding the rights of the child as part of the EU's internal and external policies;

19.  Draws attention to the needs of young people, who face particular difficulties as regards economic and social integration on leaving education and entering the world of work, and who are more susceptible to falling victim to social exclusion; calls on the Member States to ensure that youth unemployment is addressed specifically, as a priority in its own right, through specific policy measures and training, inter alia, to encourage the taking of initiative and the development of entrepreneurial spirit;

20.  Calls on the Member States to develop integrated strategies seeking to promote, in economic, social, cultural and environmental terms, the development of geographically remote and underdeveloped urban, island and rural areas, with a view to confronting the problems of exclusion and poverty and not allowing them to endure from one generation to the next;

21.  Emphasises the need to increase the participation of women in employment by eliminating obstacles that prevent women from entering it, and particularly by encouraging older women to remain longer in the labour market;

22.  Recommends that the Member States support a policy of growth and female employment by facilitating women's access to quality jobs and promoting equal-wage conditions;

23.  Emphasises that increasing female activity rates must be viewed not only as a necessary safeguard against the risk of poverty, which primarily affects women, but also as a means to maintain the balance between the number of persons economically active and those inactive, which is endangered by the ageing of the population;

24.  Calls, in this regard, on the Member States to focus on the elimination of inequalities on the labour market, such as gender gaps in employment, unemployment and atypical employment, gender segregation in sectors and occupations, gender pay gaps, unequal status and the limited participation of women in decision-making positions; considers that, in doing so, Member States should facilitate personal choices in terms of the reconciliation of work and family life and access to quality and affordable care services for children and other dependants; further believes that it is essential to ensure the mainstreaming of a gender perspective in all policies and programmes;

25.  Furthermore, calls on the Member States to take action to ensure that when their pension entitlement is calculated women are not penalised for gaps in their employment record caused by maternity leave or parental leave;

26.  Calls on the Member States, in their fight against the high levels of exclusion faced by ethnic minorities and immigrants, to develop and implement measures, including measures to raise awareness, for the integration of these target groups into the formal labour market, to enforce anti-trafficking and anti-discrimination legislation, and to facilitate their social integration through specific provisions and complex programmes relating to special educational programmes, and decent living and housing conditions, as a precondition for social inclusion;

27.  Urges the Commission to put forward proposals aimed at setting up an appropriate legal framework to eradicate discrimination against people with disabilities, by promoting equal opportunities and the full participation of such people in work, society and politics, specifically by means of a proposal for a directive based on Article 13 of the EC Treaty to cover the areas still not dealt with;

28.  Stresses the need to improve housing conditions, especially accessibility, for those less-favoured groups which are particularly affected by poverty, such as people at a disadvantage and older people who cannot look after themselves; demands that more attention be paid to the homeless, especially by providing care, imparting basic skills, and promoting social integration, which will necessitate public policies, especially in the areas of housing, health and education, to ensure that such people have access to those facilities;

29.  Moreover, considers, in this respect, that such basic skills, the teaching of which would not only be aimed at cultivating the abilities people need in order to look after themselves but also at instilling solidarity with the less able, should be taught continuously to the whole of European society, starting during primary education;

30.  Fully supports the Commission's intention to organise a European year of Equal Opportunities for All in 2007; considers that this should assist in highlighting the significance of the issue, assessing the progress achieved throughout the EU and providing a framework for further policy measures and initiatives with a view to enhancing the EU's anti-discrimination legislation, addressing direct and indirect discrimination and covering gender-equality in all areas;

31.  Welcomes the recognition that the most socially deprived people generally experience the poorest socio-environmental conditions and that this should be given due consideration when tackling social exclusion;

32.  Calls on the Commission to take legal action against Member States that do not apply or have failed to transpose by the prescribed deadline the anti-discrimination directives based on Article 13 of the EC Treaty;

33.  Reasserts the need for an improvement in harmonised data collection and the development of common indicators that take account of age and sex differences, as indicators of this kind play a major role in the monitoring and evaluation of policies on poverty and social exclusion;

34.  Considers that a real mainstreaming of social inclusion in policy making should be implemented through the establishment of systematic ex-ante and ex-post policy assessments, both at national and EU level;

35.  Points out that the social-inclusion process should truly involve key actors at local or regional level, such as local authorities in charge of social inclusion policies, social partners, NGOs and people experiencing poverty and social exclusion;

36.  Supports the intention of Commission to devote special attention to the task of combating poverty by organising the European Year of Combating Exclusion and Poverty;

Social protection

37.  Considers that the rapid changes arising from globalisation and the wide use of information and communication technologies increase vulnerability to social risk and generate a need for more efficient social protection measures with a view to ensuring the right of all to social protection;

38.  Points out that social security and benefit systems are often slow to respond to more flexible forms of employment and self-employment and fail to offer appropriate support and that this can prove a barrier to people taking up employment; considers therefore that this should be taken in to account when modernising systems;

39.  Considers that the current demographic trends - an ageing workforce and the decline of the working-age population - constitute a challenge in the medium and longer term for the financial sustainability of social protection systems;

40.  Points, in this regard, to the necessity of promoting the development and implementation of comprehensive ageing strategies aimed at empowering workers to stay active longer and encouraging employers to hire and retain older workers;

41.  Urges the Commission to put forward proposals aimed at setting up an appropriate legal framework to eradicate discrimination against people on the basis of age;

42.  Considers, in this respect, that the European Social Fund may have an important role to play in the integration and reintegration of older workers into the labour market, and, more generally, in the social inclusion of vulnerable and/or socially-excluded groups;

43.  Considers that, in order for pension schemes to be financially sustainable, there is a need for economic growth and sufficient productivity, as well as high levels of employment and the active promotion of lifelong learning, quality of work and a safe and healthy working environment;

44.  Recommends that pension systems should not only consist of a wide range of forms of social and supplementary insurance (whether statutory or private) but should also guarantee, to the greatest possible extent, social justice in pension systems;

45.  Takes the view that, in order to prevent adverse effects on employment, reforms of public pensions systems should avoid increasing the total tax burden on labour, but achieve an appropriate balance between taxes on labour and taxes on other resources;

46.  Calls on the Member States to reinforce administrative and institutional capacity, including the improvement of equal access to high-quality services, particularly, in the fields of health and long-term care, social security, social services, including the provision of counselling in social rights, child-related services, transport and mobility services, reintegration services focused on the labour-market integration, and vocational training services;

47.  Awaits the Commission's document on minimum income as a potentially useful contribution to the debate on social inclusion and social protection;

48.  Welcomes the Council's decision regarding the application of the open method of coordination in the field of health and long-term care; points out that the organisation and delivery of services and medical care is and should remain an area of Member State competence; reiterates its support for the three fundamental objectives of health and long-term care: universal access, irrespective of income or wealth, a high level of quality, and financial sustainability;

49.  Stresses that particular attention should be paid to persons requiring long-term or expensive care, and to those facing particular difficulties in accessing care; emphasises that, if health is to be promoted and protected, health systems must be based not only on the insurance principle but also on the solidarity principle;

50.  Advocates, furthermore, the increase of all those social services necessary with regard to the care of dependent persons, i.e. those unable to perform basic everyday actions by themselves;

51.  Notes that, although public pension schemes should remain an important source of pensioners' income, private provision through occupational or personal schemes can play a complementary role in obtaining additional pension entitlements;

52.  Points out, in this context, the need for coordination of comprehensive information and monitoring systems highlighting the consequences for the income and living standards of individuals;

53.  Stresses the importance of a continuous evaluation of pension systems' effectiveness with regard to their financial sustainability, as well as the achievement of social objectives;

54.  Calls on the European Council, in the interest of streamlining and simplifying the open method of coordination, to adopt at its summit in Spring 2006 an integrated framework in the fields of social protection and integration and to agree on a uniform list of common objectives in the field of social integration, pensions, health and long-term care;

55.  Regards the creation of an integrated framework and the streamlining of coordination in the fields of social protection and integration as an opportunity, in the context of the Lisbon process, to boost the social dimension of social protection as a dimension with its own independent socio-economic significance as opposed to the coordination of social and employment policy;

56.  Calls on the Member States and the Commission, when applying the open method of coordination to social protection and integration, to pay greater attention in the future to issues of reconciling work and family life, with particular emphasis on access to childcare, family income situations and the employment rate of mothers;

57.  Calls on the Member States to make optimal use of the potential offered by the open method of coordination process, as an instrument of policy making in the fields of employment, social protection, social inclusion, pensions and health;

58.  Calls on the Member States - particularly the new Member States - to review their pension systems, taking account of the significantly lower life expectancy of men and the major pay differentials between men and women, which are reflected in the size of the pensions of widowed pensioners, often pushing them below the poverty line;

59.  Points out that the development and maintenance of the social security systems is closely linked to the Lisbon goals and can make an important contribution to increased employment and growth, greater solidarity and better social integration;

60.  Reiterates its conviction that its role in applying the open method of coordination – in its capacity as the body directly representing the citizens of Europe – must be clarified and enhanced in order to give the process democratic legitimacy;

61.  Calls on the Council and Commission to open negotiations with Parliament on an inter-institutional agreement setting out the rules for selecting the areas of policy to which the open method of coordination is to be applied, and providing for a coherent application of the method with the unrestricted and equal participation of Parliament;

62.  Stresses that such an inter-institutional agreement must contain rules for the participation of Parliament in the setting of objectives and indicators and in access to documents, participation in meetings, observation and supervision of progress, information on reports and best practices, and a procedure enabling the open method of coordination to evolve into a Community method;

o   o

63.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission, the Social Protection Committee, the governments and parliaments of the Member States, the accession countries and the candidate countries.

(1) OJ C 320 E, 15.12.2005, p. 164.
(2) OJ L 205, 6.8.2005, p. 21.
(3) OJ L 10, 12.1.2002, p. 1.
(4) OJ C 261 E, 30.10.2003, p. 136.
(5) OJ C 68E, 18.3.2004, p. 604.
(6) OJ C 77E, 26.3.2004, p. 251.
(7) OJ C 45 E, 23.2.2006, p. 134.
(8) Texts adopted, P6_TA(2005)0210.
(9) Texts adopted, P6_TA(2005)0244.
(10) UNICEF Report Card No 6- Child Poverty in Rich Countries 2005

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