At the start of the European Semester for 2012, there seems to be greater recognition of social services. The Annual Growth Survey for 2012 made tackling the social impact of the crisis one of its five priorities and advised Member States to give priority to “adequate and affordable social services to prevent marginalisation of vulnerable groups”. The EU’s Social Protection Committee (made up of national civil servants) noted that the “EU is off-track to reach the [Europe 2020] target on reducing poverty and social exclusion” and highlighted six areas for action by Member States, including to “enhance access to social services”.
The European Semester refers to the annual policy cycle of the Europe 2020 Strategy. This begins with the Annual Growth Survey in January, in which the Commission sets out the state of play and challenges for the year ahead. The European Council (heads of state and government) issues guidelines for Member States in March. Member States present National Reform Programmes and, from 2012, national social reports, in April. The Commission analyses these documents and issues policy guidance in June.
ESN is pleased to see greater recognition given to social services in 2012 and welcomes the announcement of National Social Reports to accompany the National Reform Programmes. ESN Members have emphasised that combating poverty and social exclusion is as much about education and employment as about welfare benefits and social services. ESN’s assessment of the National Reform Programmes in 2011 showed that the policy links between these areas were underdeveloped.
Our workshop report identified a number of key areas where further policy development would be needed:
- Education and social inclusion for all children
- Investment in life-long learning
- Comprehensive early intervention programmes
- Personalised pathways for vulnerable groups
- Ensuring adequate social benefits
- Better access to European funds
According to new data from Eurostat, the at-risk-of-poverty rate in the EU Member States increased by 2 million to a total of 115.5 million Europeans (23.4% of EU-27 population). Older persons are at lower risk with an average of 20% but with marked difference between countries. The pension system and the existence of effective policies supporting healthy ageing and prolonged social, employment and other forms of activity play a role in determining these rates.
The risk of poverty and social exclusion is greater for children and reaches almost 27% in the EU, but also with significant countries. The main factors affecting child poverty are the labour market situation of the parents, the composition of the household and the effectiveness of government intervention through income support and services. ESN is involved in the preparation of a European Commission recommendation on child poverty and wellbeing. At our Autumn Seminar in 2011 we explored the links between early childhood and child protection services and their impact on poverty and wellbeing among children.