Report addresses poverty strategy of Europe 2020

A report examining actions to promote inclusion and reduce poverty was issued by the Social Protection Committee on 6 July 2011. The report, on the social dimension of the Europe 2020 Strategy, details the challenges of meeting the strategy’s main target of lifting 20 million people out of poverty and assesses policy options for addressing them in the current economic climate. These include strengthening early intervention in areas such as child health and education.

Reducing poverty and social exclusion

On 6 July 2011, the EU’s Social Protection Committee (SPC) released a report (1.28Mb PDF) on the social dimension of the EU’s Europe 2020 strategy. The first part of the report examines the reduction of poverty and social exclusion, while the second part details the work conducted in 2010 on social inclusion and social protection. The report also sets out a number of main messages relating to the social dimension of Europe.

Noting that the current economic climate is difficult, the report states that social welfare systems need to set priorities that combine efficiency and fairness in order to make progress on achieving the target of lifting 20 million of people out of poverty. It also suggests introducing structural reforms to preserve the EU's human capital, and that full advantage must be taken of the recovery.

The report stresses the importance of innovative approaches and of active inclusion measures combining income and labour market support such as training, job-seeking assistance, and social services. This may involve linking social assistance to activation measures and access to services. Member states should also work to reinforce their social safety nets by improving their coverage and the level of the benefits where they are weak.

As a priority, Member States should also work on breaking the inter-generational transmission of poverty by strengthening early intervention in areas such as child health and education, investing in the availability and quality of child-care, and guaranteeing adequate income support.

Main messages of report

The report states that one in five people in the EU is at risk of poverty or social exclusion and 40 million people are in a condition of severe deprivation. The EU’s commitment to lift at least 20 million people out of poverty and social exclusion over the next 10 years will require ‘ambitious national targets’. In particular, Member States need to:

  • prioritise early intervention in areas such as child health and education;
  • enhance the availability of good-quality child-care;
  • promote the labour market participation of parents;
  • guarantee adequate income support to families with children, through a combination of well designed universal and targeted benefits.

It notes that a rapid return to growth, and well designed employment and education policies, are crucial to reduce poverty and social exclusion, and that efforts to restore sound public finances and reform social protection systems should aim at ensuring their sustainability and adequacy. In particular, the most vulnerable should be protected from bearing the brunt of the consolidation measures. It also states that active inclusion strategies combining income support, access to the labour market and health and social services are needed to prevent long-term exclusion, while increasing the efficiency of social spending, with a particular focus on women and young people.

To fight poverty and social exclusion, the report suggests a combination of universal and targeted approaches, with specific attention to preventing and fighting homelessness and housing exclusion.

To ensure the long-term financial sustainability of pensions systems and the provision of adequate pensions, the report states that maximising employment years and minimising the effects of career breaks is crucial. It adds that employment rates and pension coverage also need to increase, particularly among young workers and women.

In the health sector, the report states that ensuring universal access to good-quality care for everyone will depend on the effectiveness, sustainability and responsiveness of health care and long-term care in the context of austerity and ageing. This could be achieved through innovative and coordinated health and social care delivery.

Overall, the report notes that the success of the Europe 2020 Strategy depends on an integrated and coherent approach, particularly between the areas of social, employment and economic policies, and close cooperation between all levels of government, social partners and civil society.

Commentary

The EU’s target of lifting 20 million people out of poverty as part of its Europe 2020 Strategy is ambitious, particularly in the current economic climate, although vital in terms of ensuring the continuation of the European social model and a more fair and equal society. This report is an important contribution to analysing the main trends in the areas of poverty and social exclusion and highlighting the key courses of action for the EU and its Member States. The focus is on issues such as active inclusion and ensuring that inter-generational transmission of poverty is halted.

Andrea Broughton, Institute for Employment Studies

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