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.

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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.

Parliamentary Watch: towards an inclusive Digital Single Market

On 6th May 2015, the Commission adopted a communication called “A Digital Strategy for Europe” which includes 16 initiatives to be delivered by the end of 2016. It aims at creating better opportunities for EU entrepreneurs and businesses to prosper and for the EU employment market to wholly recover from the aftermath of the economic crisis through enhanced use of digital technologies.

The Digital Single Market Strategy is structured in three parts: (1) Access: better access for consumers and businesses to digital goods and services across Europe; (2) Environment: creating the right conditions and a level playing field for digital networks and innovative services to flourish; (3) Economy & Society: maximising the growth potential of the digital economy.

The European Parliament recently adopted a report responding to the Commission’s 16 proposals, elaborating further on actions to be taken to complete the digital single market and the consequences the implementation of the digital single market will have on society and the economy as a whole.

What is there for older persons?

The Parliament report comprises a section entitled “An inclusive e-society”. It stresses the importance to ensure accessibility and participation for all citizens, including people with special needs, older people, minorities and other citizens belonging to vulnerable groups, in the frame of the Digital Single Market. It notably recognises that 35% of the EU population is at risk of exclusion from the Digital Single Market, in particular those aged over 50 and people with disabilities.

It calls on all e-government and e-administration services to be fully accessible and recalls the urgency to swiftly adopt the proposal for a directive on the accessibility of public sector bodies’ websites.

Moreover, the section deals with the need to use life-long learning opportunities to address the mismatch between supply and demand in the field of the digital economy. It notably calls on the Commission and the Member States to promote media literacy and internet literacy for all EU citizens, in particular vulnerable people, through initiatives and coordinated action and investment.

Read the full report here.

Members of the Parliament call for the promotion of sports for active ageing

On 18 November 2015, Members of the European Parliament have called for a more active promotion of sports including for older persons. AGE Platform Europe and the Italian Kung-Fu Federation FIWUK have demonstrated how Tai Chi can be practiced by people of all ages, including while sitting.

201511 TaiChi Cocktail

Member of Parliament (MEP) Marian Harkin emphasised that sports are part of inclusion into society and that, therefore, promotion of sports is a fulfilment of article 25 of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights that guarantees the right of older persons to live independently and in dignity. MEP Van Nistelrooij, Coordinator of the EP intergroup subgroup on active ageing and solidarity between generations, highlighted the important benefits to health of sports, including by preventing chronic diseases and preventing falls. Also Mr Tarabella, MEP outlined the work of the intergroup on sports in raising the importance of sports in the European agenda, including for intercultural exchange.

Vincenzo Drago, president of the Italian Federation of Wushu Kung Fu, explained the history of Tai Chi and gave information about an Erasmus+ project that his federation manages and that promotes Tai Chi for older persons and at the workplace. Two Tai Chi masters from Italy gave a demonstration of this Chinese martial art.

Member of the Parliament Alojz Peterle, Vice-President of the intergroup subgroup on active ageing and solidarity between generations, stressed also the ethical underpinning of Tai Chi, aimed at protecting the weaker. He underlined that with due regard to sports, growing older can be transformed into growing healthier. He also underlined that sports can help to reduce cancer

Mr Szabolcs Horvath from the European Commission outlined several actions that the European Commission has taken in the past to promote sports, also for the benefit of public health budgets and quality of life of older people. Actions of the EU include the European Week of Sports, organised for the first time in 2015, a 2013 Council Recommendation on health-enhancing physical activity and funding that is available for exchanges in sports through the Erasmus+ programme.

Mr Heinz K. Becker, Vice-President of the Parliament’s intergroup subgroup on active ageing and solidarity between generations highlighted the work of the Parliament on a report on the European dimension of sports. He stressed the importance of reducing corruption in sports, as this may put away many citizens from this. He also emphasised the importance of sports promotion and its role in reducing diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Anne-Sophie Parent, Secretary-General of AGE Platform Europe, expressed that sports also have an important intergenerational dimension, as soft sports such as Tai Chi can be practiced by grandparents and children together. She also underlined that such a sport, included at the workplace, supports employability and motivation of workers.

Read the full report of the meeting here

 

Parliamentary Watch: calling for a culture of prevention at the workplace

The European Commission has released the Strategic Framework for Health and Safety at Work 2014-2020 in late 2014. The framework put the emphasis on non-legislative actions to reach out to small and medium-sized enterprises, explore new and emerging risks such as psycho-social conditions or exposure to new materials and the exchange of practices. The new Juncker Commission has announced a ‘refit’ exercise for health and safety regulation, meaning it will be reviewed with the aim of simplification. Doubts are cast by trade unions that this might mean a reduction of safety standards. The Commission’s view is that legislation can be simplified without lowering protection.

In its reaction, the European Parliament highlighted that lower protection for workers is not acceptable, but that ‘improving the quality’ of the regulatory framework is positive.  The Parliament asked that new and emerging risks such as nanomaterials, musculoskeletal disorders are included. On psycho-social disorders, the Parliament called for systematic monitoring of stress, burnout and depression and for specific programmes that should develop recommendations on these risks.

What is there for older persons?

The Parliament called on the Commission and the Member States to design appropriate policies to address the ageing of the workforce and considered sound health and safety rules as a way to provide healthy work environments throughout people’s working life and enabling them to work up to statutory retirement age. It stressed the importance of preventive policies and workplace health promotion, as a way to foster a ‘culture of prevention’ starting already with apprenticeships.

The Parliament also called for more attention to be paid to groups of workers, such as domestic workers who often operate outside of all health and safety frameworks. All occupational health and safety measures should include a gender dimension, it said, looking at the specific risks of women and at sectors where the workforce is predominantly composed of women.

AGE view

AGE Platform Europe has repeatedly called for comprehensive health and safety policies, including legislative obligations for employers, as a way to promote health prevention of risks. Occupational health and safety rules have a key role to create the physical and mental capacity to cope with longer working lives, and therefore are also key to the success of pension reforms. The gender aspects and new forms of risks have to be taken as seriously as traditional risks that are already enshrined in legislation.

Read the full report here.

Parliamentary Watch: European Parliament’s reaction on long-term unemployment

The Commission has released in October a proposal aimed to better integrate long-term unemployed into the labour market. According to current statistics, around 5 % of the EU active population is long-term unemployed. The problem is higher for older workers, as long-term unemployed constitute 63% all unemployed between 55 and 65, and many do not figure in the statistics as they do not declare themselves as unemployed.

The European Parliament welcomed the Commission’s proposal to improve services for long-term unemployed, also highlighting some of the shortfalls of the proposal. The Parliament’s concerns are that a more decisive measure would have been preferrable, that individual needs assessments need to be elaborated much earlier than at 18 months of unemployment and that all actors, including NGOs, working with unemployed should work together.

What is there for older persons?

The Parliament recalls that long-term unemployment often have negative long-term consequences for employment prospects, career progress, earnings profiles and pensions.

It also underlined that skills maintenance in the event of job loss, together with education, training and reskilling that anticipate future skills needs, is an important element in avoiding and redressing long-term unemployment.

AGE views

AGE welcomes the proposal from the Commisison, however AGE is concerned that it is not sufficient to make a distinctive difference. Individual assessments should be conducted much before 18 months of unemployment, as the distance from the labour market grows with the time. Also, life-long learning facilities should be provided as well as in-work trainings for workers of all ages – often, these are no longer available for workers from a certain age, due to age discrimination. Long-term unemployment is a waste of skills and experience that could be used to benefit companies, younger workers and society as a whole.

Read the full report here.