Intergenerational fairness: which challenges, which solutions? – report of joint EP event

Do people of different ages feel they are treated fairly by public policies? Which are the choices public finances need to make in the process of demographic change? These were the topics of a lunch debate organized in the European Parliament on 21 June 2018 by AGE and the European Youth Forum and hosted by the Intergroup subgroup on Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations. (You can view the agenda of this event here). The background was the release of a report by the Commission showing the impact of demographic change on public finances until 2070 and a survey conducted by the professional body of chartered accountants ICAEW.
  

MEPs call for better dialogue on intergenerational issues

Mr Heinz Becker, MEP (EPP/Austria) and Co-chair of the Intergroup subgroup on Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations declared that, despite what is often said, there is no conflict between younger and older people: solidarity between generations already exists between grandparents and grandchildren. He proposed that impact assessments of all legislation should systematically look at the effect on older and younger people.

Mr Brando Benifei, MEP (S&D / Italy), Vice-chair of the intergroup subgroup, said that the challenges linked to demographic change have to be solved by building trust between generations. He explained that the European Parliament’s work on youth unemployment or European personal pensions aim to build this trust, and that it is important to maintain dialogue between generations.

Mr Lambert Van Nistelrooij (EPP/Netherlands), Co-Chair of the Intergroup subgroup, emphasised that the European Parliament must continue to build strong results to improving intergenerational fairness, supported by the economy.

EU study: demographic change will mean rising pension and health care costs, but will be contained in the long term

The European Commission, represented by Mr Santiago Calvo Ramos, presented the outcomes of a study it has conducted together with member States from the Economic Policy Committee. The ‘Ageing Report’ tries to predict the evolution of public finances in light of demographic change until 2070, mapping the costs for education, health and long-term care, pensions and unemployment benefits. He explained that while public expenditure will rise strongly until roughly 2040, it will probably fall again afterwards to lead to an about 1.7 % (of GDP) increase of public budgets by 2070. The reality might even be a bit better, if pension reforms that have been announced and planned will be implemented. Some costs are however difficult to predict, as health care costs can evolve with technological developments. For long-term care, costs are presently quite low, because there is a strong reliance on informal (unpaid) care. With more people in need for care, the development of infrastructure will mark a very strong increase in this domain.

Survey: All generations have the same distrust in governments, but no competing priorities

Dr Susanna Di Feliciantonio presented a survey conducted by the Institute of Chartered Accountants for England and Wales, a professional body. The survey, covering 10,000 respondents from 10 European countries, addressed perceptions of intergenerational fairness of public policies. Alarmingly, only ¼ of Europeans trust their government to take the financial impact of policy decisions on future generations into account – a view shared by all age groups. ICAEW also asked respondents which policy areas should be prioritised, and different age groups largely agreed to a set order of priorities – the most important being to fight poverty and unemployment, followed by financing pension systems and care, education, fair taxation, acting for the environment and, as the lowest priority, reducing public debt. The results were broadly similar across countries. Respondents agreed that these priorities should be the responsibility of governments, not of individuals. For Dr Di Feliciantonio, the study highlights the importance of trust and transparency in policy-making, and indicates the need to better explain possible trade-offs to European citizens.

Young people: more representation needed, disadvantages in housing and care policies

Anne Widegren, Secretary General of the European Youth Forum, presented the perspective of young people. The welfare system should be based on intergenerational solidarity and bring responses to demographic change. It is important to enhance confidence of Europeans into their lives and futures, and that is a role of EU social policy. Ms Widegren supported the call for generational impact assessments in policy-making. She emphasised that there is a tendency to pit generations against each other – but this should be resisted. Generations need to come together to be stronger. Young people are under-represented in politics and therefore also in policy. As the population of the European Union is ageing, discrimination and ageism increasingly goes against young people. Housing is an important example, as they cannot own their housing, cannot afford to live alone in big cities. Especially those who do not have the help from their parents clearly face discrimination in the housing market. Age discrimination also happens to older people, acting differently, however.

When the welfare system fails to adapt to the changes in society, there is more pressure on generations. This is the case in informal care. Many carers are young people who are close to their older relatives, and many of them are women. To tackle this injustice, proper investment in care systems and work-life balance policies are all the more important.

To avoid pitting generations against each other, Ms Widegren called for a new social pact to pay more attention to intergenerational fairness.

Common challenges for older and younger people: ageism, learning, pensions, care

Philippe Seidel, AGE Policy Officer, spoke for AGE Platform Europe, highlighting the shared concerns across generations, and the shared problem with trust. AGE supports the new approach to the Justice and Values fund, as it is clearly – amongst others – dedicated to fight age discrimination, an issue for both the young and the old. Another common call is the Erasmus programme: it is good news for younger people and older adults that the funds are doubled in the European Commission’s proposal, but adults are not taken into account as learners, only their teaching staff is included in the mobility programmes.

When reforming pension systems, all generations need to participate in the debate, which is often not the case. Citizens do not trust governments for ensuring their pensions – if they were asked whether they trusted banks, the answer would probably have been worse, though. It is an important message that government have to urgently address. Another common area is precariousness and access to social protection. Both younger and older people find themselves in atypical employment, in particular younger people. This reduces their future pension rights and leads to an erosion of incomes of social protection systems. We should be together addressing this. Supporting those who need care should be seen as a societal task. The burden for long-term care, education and childcare should be supported by society and not fall only on the shoulder of families.

Anne-Sophie Parent, AGE Secretary General, added that there is a missing European Pact on Intergenerational Fairness. This would allow different units and the European Commission’s directorates to work together to get a larger view. For example on pension adequacy, we often look at what people receive, not at what they have to pay for – including long-term care. All EU institutions – Commission, Parliament and Council – have to understand that they have to rebuild trust to reconcile older and younger voters.
For further information on this event and on AGE related work, please contact Philippe Seidel at philippe.seidel@age-platform.eu

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European Accessibility Act: where do we stand?

End 2015 the European Commission proposed a Directive to improve the functioning of the internal market for accessible products and services by removing barriers created by divergent legislation. This will facilitate the work of companies while bringing benefits for older people and people with disabilities in the European Union. Continue Reading

Council and Parliament adopt the revised directive on occupational pensions

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Parliamentary Watch: European Parliament says Erasmus+ should be ‘for all ages’

The European Parliament has adopted a report on the Erasmus+ programme and other tools to support life-long learning. The Erasmus+ programme centralises the programmes on training and education, formerly comprising Erasmus (students), Comenius (primary and secondary schools), vocational education and training (Leonardo Da Vinci) and adult education (Grundtvig).

What is there for older persons?

The Parliament deplores that especially vocational education and adult education have lost visibility in the Erasmus+ programme, often seen by outsiders as being only for higher education students.

The Parliament underlined here the importance of training and upskilling needs of long-term unemployed and as well as the role of senior citizens in training programmes. It demands in this new report that continuous vocational education and training should be taken into account by the programme and that mobility retraining programmes should be open for unemployed people of all ages. The Parliament calls upon the Commission to publish a Green paper on vocational education, training and mobility and the recognition of skills and competences in Europe

An important issue in the field of lifelong learning is the certification and recognition of skills: member states have very different systems of valuing skills from informal (non-certifying courses) and non-formal (gained by experience) skills. Even for formal qualifications, acquired during an Erasmus+ scholarship, recognition is not a given. The Parliament highlights these misgivings and calls for a stronger recognition of this issue.

AGE Platform Europe welcomes the Parliament report and its role in highlighting the importance of the Erasmus+ programme also for older citizens. Informal and non-formal education should have a greater role and its outcomes certified and recognised by a common framework, in order to value the rich experience of older workers. Erasmus+ has also an important role in supporting senior volunteering and therefore to develop active and thereby healthy ageing in Europe.

Read the report here.

 

Parliamentary Watch: the Parliament puts pressure on the Commission and Member States on poverty reduction

The Parliament has adopted a report on the Europe 2020 Strategy’s poverty target of reducing the number of people living in poverty between 2008 and 2020 by 20 million people.

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. The Parliament highlights the plight especially of groups at a higher risk: older persons, the unemployed, one-parent families, low-income families, widows or widowers, the permanently ill, young people, people with disabilities and minorities.

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.

What is there for older persons?

First, 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 an impact assessment of minimum income schemes. In terms of pension reforms, the Parliament calls for reforms in pension systems with an aim to guarantee an adequate level of pension incomes to fight against old age poverty.

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, it says. In this context, the Parliament notes that access to affordable health services has become an issue in the context of the crisis and underlines its concern 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 right.

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 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.

Read the Parliament’s report here.

Parliamentary Watch: Parliament calls for strong life-long learning systems and action on poverty in EU Semester

The European Semester is a yearly exercise to coordinate the Member States’ economic and budgetary policies and has a wide impact on social policies as well. The European Commission is starting the cycle by defining common priorities in the Annual Growth Survey, published in autumn 2015, and followed by country-reports in February, highlighting the challenges each country has to address. Based on these priorities, the Member States highlight their reform efforts in National Reform Programmes, published in April and the European Council adopts country-specific recommendations in June.

The European Parliament has adopted two positions on the Annual Growth Survey. In its reports, the European Parliament comments on the Commission’s priorities which were published in autumn, which are to re-launch investment, to pursue structural reforms and “responsible” fiscal policies. The Parliament broadly welcomes these priorities, addressing recommendations on which policy areas to stress concretely.

What is there for older persons?

The reports call repeatedly for investment to be directed into life-long learning and long-term care infrastructure. It also calls for decisive actions to fight long-term unemployment and to step up the fight against poverty, re-affirming the social targets the EU has set itself in the Europe 2020 strategy. It also emphasises the importance of social fairness in conducting reforms.

Fight long-term unemployment and start investing into life-long learning

Regarding older workers, the Parliament highlights the fact that employment rates are very low for this age category and that they are at a higher risk of long-term unemployment. The Parliament also highlights discrimination against long-term job-seekers and low hiring rates of older workers. Several calls are made to promote an investment strategy for the full cycle of education, including lifelong learning, work-based and workplace learning, and formal and non-formal education. The need to make education systems inclusive for all age groups by focussing on adult education and vocational training, especially to increase digital skills, are highlighted. The Parliament also called for coherent validation of non-formal and informal knowledge, mutual recognition of skills and qualifications.

Poverty target re-affirmed

The Europe 2020 poverty target, aimed to reduce the number of people living in poverty or social exclusion by 20 million by 2020, has also been reaffirmed. The Parliament calls for stronger action on poverty and to re-link the Europe 2020 strategy to the European Semester and invites the Commission to present an integrated anti-poverty strategy for the EU. It asks for including indicators for the quality of employment, poverty and inequalities in the Semester.

Pension reforms: reconcile adequacy and sustainability

In light of demographic change, the Parliament also raises the question of promoting active ageing and the importance of maintaining adequacy of first pillar pensions and minimum income schemes. Several references are made to adequacy of income support throughout the lifetime, all while maintaining the sustainability of public pension systems, the principle of subsidiarity in this regards.

Support carers, measure access to health care, invest in long-term care

The need for investment into formal and informal care resources is highlighted as well as the importance to improve the situation of informal carers. The Parliament reminds the principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which should be respected in the Semester process. In terms of health care, the Parliament encourages to measure the access and quality of healthcare with a view of reducing health inequalities.

Read more here.

Parliamentary Watch: MEP Eduard Kukan questions the EC on the implementation of the Employment Equality Directive

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) can submit written questions to the President of the European Council, the Council, the Commission or the Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

Last November, MEP Eduard Kukan submitted a question to the Commission on the implementation of the Employment Equality Directive, underlining that despite the Directive, age discrimination is still rampant in the labour market and has increased since the financial and economic crisis. Observed consequences were among others: gender pay and pension gaps, and long-term unemployment for older workers.

He therefore asked the Commission how it intensd to enforce the implementation of Directive in order to fight against persisting age discrimination in the labour market, and how it plans to encourage the employment of older women.

The Commission just sent its reply. It states it willingness to fight age discrimination, its efforts to monitor the situation in the Member States, but recalls that it is up to the Member States to transpose the Directive. Regarding employability of older workers, it replied that that gender gap aspects are part of the monitoring done in the context of the European Semester. In 2015, several Member States received country specific recommendations on improving family support services, work-life balance, skills upgrading, while others were encouraged to take steps to harmonise the retirement age between men and women.

Read more here.