The Parliament has adopted a report on the Europe 2020 poverty target of reducing the number of people living in poverty between 2008 and 2020 by 20 million people. Considering that more people live in poverty today than in 2008 and that households costs have risen, the Parliament asks for more action and commitment to fight poverty, including old-age poverty.
A gloomy picture
The Parliament paints a gloomy picture of the situation of people living in poverty: the number of people at risk of poverty and social exclusion is set at 122.6 million, the number of long-term unemployed reaches 12 million. With housing becoming more expensive, an essential safeguard of inclusion, health and employability is under threat. The Parliament highlights the plight especially of groups at a higher risk: the elderly, widows or widowers are among them.
The situation of women is worse than those of men because of the gender pay and gender pension gaps. The Parliament warns that lifetime differences between men and women have a direct effect on female pensioners. The Parliament calls for an end of the gender pay and pension gaps and identifies them as a key contributor to female poverty.
A European Strategy and action on minimum incomes
To reinvigorate the Europe 2020 strategy, the Parliament demands that the Commission and Member States adopt into an integrated strategy to combat poverty in a holistic approach. It calls for an impact assessment of minimum income schemes to assess if the schemes meet personal needs. The Parliament acknowledges the work that has already been established on reference budgets and calls for these budgets to be sensitive to differences throughout the life cycle and for differences between men and women. It also calls for analyses to check if minimum income schemes can be raised to 60% of median incomes (the poverty threshold) in member states. In terms of pension reforms, the Parliament calls for reforms in pension systems with an aim to guarantee an adequate level of pension incomes. These measures should be discussed at a summit dedicated to the reduction of poverty.
The Parliament finds that social housing plays an essential role in reducing poverty. Other problems pinpointed are the lack of access to benefits and the non-take up of available social benefits. The Parliament also invites the Commission to come up with a communication on energy poverty to stir an exchange on how to fight this phenomenon. As a recommendation, social housing should be targeted in measures to increase energy efficiency.
The Parliament also links the problem of poverty to health inequalities. Life expectancy is dependent on experiences of poverty, especially if experienced at a very young age. In this context, the Parliament notes that access to affordable health services is an issue in the context of the crisis. The Parliament is concerned that financial restrictions in the health sector could harm the long-term financial and organisational viability of the sector. It reaffirms its commitment to universal health care as a fundamental rights and the risk of multiple disadvantages (such as old age and poor health) can lead to poverty. It calls for concrete actions to reduce health inequalities.
Labour market and digital technologies
To bring long-term unemployed to the labour market, the Parliament calls for action on recognising skills acquired informally, so that the experience of workers can be taken into account by the labour market and avoid long-term unemployment. To avoid that the Digital Single Market Strategy increases inequalities, the Parliament reminds that equal access to new technologies should be allowed for people at risk of poverty or social exclusion.
AGE Platform highly welcomes this report that pinpoints many of the difficult situations that older people are living every day, locked between inadequate pension entitlements and rising costs for health care and housing. Especially the recent reduction of healthy life years is very worrying, as many people have to advance out-of-the-pocket payments for health services. This leads to the postponement of important consultations and check-ups, which might avoid the disease and related healthcare costs of many older people.
The increase of rates of poverty and social exclusion should be used as a warning call and trigger a stronger action by the EU and member states to fulfil the promise of poverty reduction that they have embarked on. A coherent strategy is needed to ensure that people at risk of poverty and social exclusion are not further left behind by the evolutions in housing and new technologies.