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  • EPSCOEmployment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council (EPSCO)

‘...And Justice for All?’ Fixing Social Inequalities in the EU

  • Photo: © European Union

    © European Union

The European Union may be an economic giant with global clout but it has its own skeletons in the closet, particularly in the field of social justice and equality. Although inequalities had been declining, new challenges such as the current economic crisis and a demographic changes [ageing population] put a strain on Europe’s social foundations, posing a considerable threat to the social fabric.

When 1+1 equals 0

Social protection systems are designed to provide protection against the risks and needs associated with: unemployment, parental responsibilities, sickness and healthcare, invalidity, old age, housing, pensions and exclusion. All the above sectors are nowadays severely tested, with the risk of undermining the European society’s wellbeing. In particular:

  • Unemployment rates remain historically high, at 11% on average (2013), and 23.4% among the young. [10% of Europeans live in households where no one has a job]
  • the share of people at risk of poverty has risen to 25%
  • 20% of the workforce still has a serious lack of skills [literacy/numeracy]. One out of four adults cannot make use of ICT.
  • Huge differences between national welfare systems [the best reduced the risk of poverty by 35%, the least effective by less than 15%]
  • Member States have increased the overall tax burden & social contributions.
  • 12 million more women than men are living in poverty and one out of three childern are at risk of social exclusion.
  • Specific populations such as the Roma are especially challenged

The EU’s safety net

Looking out for the future, the European Union has set out the Europe 2020 Strategy. Social inclusion is one of the five main objectives of this policy framework, to be reached by 2020. In particular, the European perspective places strong emphasis on social inclusion through job creation and eventual economic prosperity.

EU targets for inclusive growth include:

  • 75% of the 20-64 year-olds to be employed
  • 40% of people in their thirties completing 3rd level education
  • 20 million fewer people in or at risk of poverty and social exclusion

An important tool is the European platform against poverty, ensuring social and territorial cohesion. It aims at:

  • Delivering actions such as minimum income support, housing and access to basic banking accounts.
  • Financing social inclusion [20% of the European Social Fund to be earmarked for this].
  • Identifying what does and does not work in social policy innovations
  • Working in partnership with civil society.
  • Enhanced policy coordination among EU countries.

A Greek presidency initiative

A special conference titled Social Inequalities in Europe, scheduled for today, will present the results of research projects, which will hopefully point to specific policy directions (especially in the field of Research & Innovation), addressing the root of the problem.  The event is co-organised by the Greek Ministry of Education, the European Commission [DG Research and Innovation] the Greek Centre for Social Research and the Panteion University of Political & Social Studies.