László Andor, Commissioner responsible for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, recently delivered a speech on ‘Fighting poverty and preserving democracy through social investment’ at the Council of Europe Conference on Poverty and Inequalities in Societies of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Andor highlighted the aim of the European Commission’s (EC) Social Investment Package (SIP), which was adopted on 20th February, in increasing “participation in employment, better social spending and fairer taxation to offset inequality and fight against poverty across Europe”. The Package sets out an integrated framework for social policy reform drawing on good practices of Member States and calling for increased efficiency in achieving policy goals.
Andor outlined the three strands of policy reform included in the Package aimed at helping Member States to adapt social protection systems to current and long-term challenges. The first policy strand addresses the more effective use of social policy budgets for better social outcomes and by putting a greater focus for example on childcare, active labour measures and long-term care, as well as streamlining benefit administration improving access to services and addressing individual situations in a more targeted way.
He mentioned that the second strand is based on three pillars - access to quality services, income support and inclusiveness of labour markets – which, combined with benefits addressing resource inequality and guaranteeing adequate standards of living, offer opportunities for increased labour market participation, as well as wider participation in society.
Preventive measures safeguarding against risks and geared at individual life situations and needs are part of the third strand. According to Andor, these measures are targeted at reducing increased higher social spending at a later point in time, while they also include other types of preventative support such as addressing homelessness via permanent rehousing or mitigating effects through housing-led policies.
Support for Member States will come from EU Structural Funds with the Package providing guidance on how to make effective use of EU resources, in particular the European Social Fund, for investing in social innovation and the social economy.
Andor furthermore called for wider stakeholder participation in consultations on both Member State and EU level throughout the European Semester to increase policy reform successes by including social partners and civil society. He also stressed to consider individual and social implications resulting from decisions on fiscal consolidation and growth in order to ensure social equity at the same time as economic efficiency leading to inclusive growth.
The Package also provides guidance on how to tackle child poverty and social exclusion promoting children’s well-being through family support and benefits, quality childcare and early-childhood education. These measures are thought to show positive impacts on education, employment and risk reduction across periods of life, as well as helping individuals to escape the intergenerational poverty trap. Andor noted the EC’s Recommendation ‘Investing in Children - breaking the cycle of disadvantage’ annexed to the Package outlining that within the framework of the Recommendation EPIC will be used to collect and disseminate innovative practices in this subject area. Practices that have been found to have a positive impact on children and families in European Union (EU) Member States will be made available in the Practices that Work section of the website.