Krakow hosts Annual Convention

400 people gathered in Krakow, Poland, to take stock of the EU’s work to combat poverty and social exclusion, including the framework for meeting the target to lift 20 million out of poverty. The first Annual Convention of the European Platform against Poverty and Social Exclusion (EPAPSE) took place on 17-18 October and was an opportunity for national governments, local and regional authorities, civil society organisations and people experiencing poverty to re-establish their commitment to ‘inclusive’ growth within the Europe 2020 Strategy.

Several Commission representatives spoke about policy initiatives in support of social inclusion. Roma integration was a priority for DG Justice, whose representative described the EU’s efforts to promote the integration of 10-12 million “poorest of the poor”. DG Education and Culture was concerned about the 80 million adults with severe deficiencies in basic skills due to early school-leaving, with a resulting “huge loss of potential”; the Commission has developed policy guidance. DG MARKT highlighted its initiative to promote access to bank accounts and recalled that the single market is “not an end in itself but is at the service of the citizen’s wellbeing.” DG SANCO briefed delegates on its recent work to promote mental wellbeing and to favour the use of structural funds to support deinstitutionalisation.

A series of workshops and site visits covered some of the major issues in combating poverty and social exclusion. In the child poverty workshop, Julien van Geertsom advocated an EU approach to tackling child poverty and promoting wellbeing based on the work of the Belgian Presidency. “It’s not that parents in poverty are poor parents,” he said, adding that the transmission of poverty between generations must be stopped. A workshop on young people not in education, employment or training (NEET) highlighted that this number had risen from below 10% to an estimated 12-15% in recent years. Social innovation was the subject of another workshop, which highlighted the need to make long-term and well-funded analysis of the effectiveness of social interventions.

In the closing session of the convention, Frédérique Daerden MEP, the Parliament’s rapporteur on the EPAPSE expressed his view that poverty was “no longer a taboo term” in Europe. Commissioner Andor took a wider view of the economic situation besides describing various EU initiatives, He said "some governments are walking a tightrope in their efforts to reduce spending without sacrificing growth and people's well-being." He added that governments were "probably more cautious" about setting poverty targets because of the "concern about the financial crisis". He then highlighted the Commission’s proposal that 20% of the budget of the European Social Fund would be used in combating poverty and social exclusion from 2014 onwards.

ESN report: Insights and experience from the local level

Following the Annual Convention, ESN now launches a report in which ESN members say what they think should be done to reduce poverty and social exclusion at local level and what they think of the EU’s policy framework. Members placed as much emphasis on education and employment as on basic welfare benefits and specialist social work services. In an ESN workshop last July on the issue, Alina Mrejeru from Romania shared an acrostic of the word ‘poverty’: “People. Overwhelmed by problems.Vulnerability. End of the road. Risk.Target. Yes we must do something!”