Representatives from European institutions, NGOs, and policy makers came together on 14 and 15 October in Brussels at the conference “Social inclusion of families and EU Policies: Where do we stand?” The goal was to look at the family dimension of EU policies and to chart a roadmap towards a socially inclusive Europe. The event was organised by the Confederation of Family Organisations in the EU (COFACE) in cooperation with the EU Belgian Presidency in the context of the 2010 European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion.
The importance of an EU focus on the family and the EU’s role in combating family poverty and social exclusion were addressed through video testimonies, presentations by family policy specialists and interactive workshops.
In the current economic downturn, millions of families across Europe are at risk of poverty. In most countries, unemployment is rising and there is an overall reduction in income levels. Faced with high budget deficits, governments are cutting down on services supporting families, such as healthcare, child protection, and maternity and parental leave benefits. The increasing sense of insecurity goes hand in hand with the progressive aging of the European population and falling birth rates.
“In today’s European Union, 84 million people are at risk of poverty. That is 16% of the population. And 10 million of them are children. That is simply unacceptable in 21st century Europe”, said opening speaker László Andor, European Commissioner responsible for Employment and Social Affairs. “These figures are likely to be much higher in future”, he warned.
Ludo Horemans from the European Anti Poverty Network further stressed that women, children, elders and single-parent families are the most vulnerable. He further pointed out that income inequalities are deepening and 8% of working people live in poverty.
The Commissioner Andor reiterated the European Commission’s strong commitment to solidarity, social justice and greater inclusion of families. He further stressed the Commission will assess the gaps in entitlement to family-related leave, and in particular paternity leave and leave for family carers. From 2007 to 2013, half a billion Euro will be available from the Structural Funds to develop childcare facilities, and another 2.4 billion Euro to fund measures to facilitate women’s access to employment and to reconcile work and family life, including access to childcare.
The participants welcomed the recent decision to make the fight against poverty and social exclusion one of the main pillars of the ‘Europe 2020 strategy’. The target is to lift 20 million people out of poverty by 2020. As part of this strategy, the Commission proposed setting up a Platform against Poverty and Social Exclusion, a flagship initiative to boost EU inclusive growth
Conference participants emphasised the need for a coordinated EU strategy in the field of family policy and a comprehensive programme to help families, especially the poorest and most vulnerable.
Ensuring minimum income, implementing instruments at the EU level to ensure better financial support for families and improving access to better paid jobs and services were identified as critical to improving the living conditions of families and children.
It was broadly agreed that the EU should play a strong role in promoting longer and better paid maternity and parental leave schemes, more flexible working arrangements and the role of men in the family in order to improve work-life balance for parents, especially for mothers.
The participants also stressed the importance of sufficient, appropriate, quality care provision and services, such as childcare, care for the elderly and the disabled persons to preserve the wellbeing and quality of life of all dependent persons and their families.
COFACE urged the leaders of European institutions to proclaim 2014 as the European Year of Families, which is also the 20th anniversary of the International Year of the Family.
Miklos Soltesz, Hungarian Minister for Social Affairs, reiterated the commitment of his country towards families. “The Hungarian Presidency will make families our focus, particularly highlighting the demographical aspect”, insisted Minister Solesz. “Not only will we support COFACE’s initiative to make the year 2014 the European Year of the Family, but we will also defend it fervently throughout our presidency”, he added.