Annual Convention of the European Platform against Poverty and Social Exclusion with the participation of László Andor and Tonio Borg

Type: Complete speech   Reference: I-075572   Duration: 10:33:33  Lieu:
End production: 05/12/2012   First transmission: 05/12/2012
On 5 December 2012, László Andor, Member of the EC in charge of Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, Tonio Brog, Member of the EC in charge of Health and Consumer Policy, and Conny Reuter, President of the Platform of European Social NGOs (Social Platform), participated at the Second Annual Convention of the Platform against Poverty and Social Exclusion, held in Brussels. On this occasion, they gave a speech on stocktaking on progress made in 2012 and the need for Social investment. The European Platform against poverty and social exclusion sets out actions to reach the EU target of reducing poverty and social exclusion by at least 20 million by 2020. Launched in 2010, the platform is part of the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.

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10:00:00 Soundbite by László Andor, Member of the EC in charge of Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, (in ENGLISH): Distinguished guests, Ladies and gentlemen, One year after the first edition of the annual convention, we note that the situation in our Member States has not improved. The crisis has further increased and deepened the inequalities within and between Member States. Unemployment, poverty and exclusion continue to be on the rise. Those at risk of poverty are getting poorer in many countries — especially in countries where the overall risk of poverty is high. And those who are already in a vulnerable situation are hardest hit. The percentage of people in households experiencing financial distress is at an all-time high. From 2009 to 2011, the income of the average household declined in two out of three Member States. These developments undermine social cohesion and put a strain on solidarity, also between Member States as we can witness from the ongoing discussions between the heads of state and government. If the European Union is to come out of the crisis stronger, more cohesive and more competitive, we need to tackle the social situation and the long-term challenges too. And we need to do that by focusing on structural reform and social investment. In the European Union, we have not been idle over the past year. The Commission has adopted the Youth Opportunities Initiative and the Employment Package and launched the Social Business Initiative to boost employment. Employment remains above all one of the best ways to get out of poverty, provided that the jobs created are of good quality and ensure a decent living. The European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations has focused minds on the need to keep older people in employment, participating in society and living independently for as long as possible. And we have launched initiatives to promote social inclusion of marginalised groups, such as the Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies. We have continued to test reforms and ideas through social policy experimentation and the social protection committee has developed a Social Protection Performance Monitor to improve the monitoring of social policy. This will usefully feed into our further work on the Europe 2020 strategy. During the so-called European Semester of this year, the Member States, upon the Commission's proposal, adopted not only recommendations on economic and employment policies but also 37 country specific recommendations on pension reform, health, poverty reduction, Roma inclusion and on the effectiveness of social protection. But much more needs to be done. To make the right choices and design the most effective policy, we need a sound understanding of the social situation and of the challenges facing us. There is the challenge of population change as Europe’s demographics evolve. The rise in numbers of retired people, lower childbirth and the shrinking working-age population are threatening the long-term sustainability and adequacy of our social protection systems. We need to acknowledge the impact of social protection spending on reducing poverty. Leaving pensions aside, social welfare benefit in the EU brought the poverty rate down from 26% to 16% in 2010. We note at the same time that there is scope for improving the effectiveness of spending on social protection. Some Member States clearly are more successful in reducing poverty than others. Ladies and gentlemen, At the Platform’s first annual convention last year, I said "social protection is not there just as a remedy when things are going badly. It is a social investment — an investment in our future prosperity and well-being". This stays even truer now. We need to modernise the European social model so that it mobilises a larger share of Europe's human capital, while at the same time ensuring social inclusion of disadvantaged people and an adequate level of social protection. This is why the Commission will present early next year a Social Investment Package for Growth and Cohesion. The Social Investment Package will provide concrete guidance for the modernisation of welfare states, on the shape of such reforms and on how the EU can support Member States in this context. The conventional social protection paradigm would need to be supplemented by a more forward-looking social investment approach, inter alia by pointing to good practices that already exist in some Member States and regions. Five main themes will be addressed by the package: First, our social policy budgets need to be sustainable and adequate. As I said, there is room to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of social policy budgets in many Member States. We should adopt the policy that yields the highest return in social and economic terms. Second, we must focus on services that enable people and on benefits that improve human capital. Fighting exclusion and promoting employment at the same time contributes to sustainable growth in a climate of budget constraint and a shrinking workforce. Active inclusion strategies and services that are more effective, more efficient and of better quality are vital if we are to avoid wasting human capital. As recalled by this year's annual growth strategy, these active inclusion strategies should consist of support to inclusive labour markets, benefits that provide an adequate livelihood and social services that pre-empt the onset of hardship. In a time of crisis, it is vital to improve such services and maintain effective social safety nets. And what makes it possible is smart investment. For example, job-search assistance, flexible working arrangements, improved childcare, and lifelong learning opportunities are more effective in raising employment rates, especially among women, than cash benefits on their own. There also needs to be a stronger link between social assistance and activation measures — thanks to more personalised services and a "one stop shop" — to improve efficiency and enhance people's productive potential. Thirdly, we need to invest in trans-generational policies that address specific needs in childhood, for young people and for the transition from school to work, in parenthood, when people reach the end of their careers and in old age. Tackling childhood disadvantages at an early stage is the best way to help people fulfil their potential. That is why access to early childhood education and care is so crucial. We will address this with the forthcoming recommendation on child poverty, as part of the package. Policies to ensure adequate livelihoods at each stage of life cycle combined with active ageing enable people to maximise their potential and increases older people’s employment opportunities. The fourth building block of the package involves strengthening evidence-based policymaking to identify and apply the most efficient and effective measures. That means the Member States need to ensure that adequate and predictable financing is available for testing and scaling up social innovations. Social innovations help address newly emerging social needs and are often more cost-effective. Policy based on more sound evidence and statistics that measure performance and outcomes more precisely will allow us to learn more effectively from each other. Ladies and gentlemen, The fifth theme addressed by the package will cover ways to making the best use of the EU budget, and in particular the European Social Fund. As you know, the Commission proposal for a Multiannual Financial Framework for 2014 to 2020 has a strong social investment dimension. It proposes allocating at least 25% of Cohesion Policy funding to the Social Fund, and allocating 20% of Social Fund resources in each Member State to projects to promote social inclusion and combat poverty. The final decision on the budget for the next financing period still needs to be taken. It will show us how strong the Member States are committed to the key principle of solidarity and the employment and social targets they set themselves as part of the Europe 2020 strategy. Ladies and gentlemen, More effective spending as part of social and employment policies also calls for stronger EU and Member State economic and social governance. The consolidation and completion of the Economic and Monetary Union is set to strengthen it further. Meanwhile, the arrangements for social policy coordination at EU level — the open method of coordination — are non-binding. There is therefore a risk of imbalance in overall coordination of economic, employment and social policy. That is why the upcoming package will also start a discussion on how to upgrade and streamline the EU’s procedures in the social policy area. This will improve the monitoring and governance of reform under the Europe 2020 Strategy. To implement the Social Investment Package effectively and strengthen the social dimension of Europe 2020, we need to work even more closely together at all relevant levels. The Platform against Poverty could be developed further into a venue for stakeholder involvement in meeting the Europe 2020 targets, sharing ownership and securing collective commitment. Stakeholders such as regions and cities, social partners, civil society and where possible those directly affected by our policies must have a say in designing, implementing and monitoring national reform programmes. Ladies and gentlemen, The Europe 2020 targets for employment, education and poverty reduction are central to the economic and social model of the Europe we are striving to build — a Europe that is smart, sustainable and inclusive. Our approach must be valid for addressing the consequences of the crisis and must tackle at the same time longer-term challenges comprehensively. Our Social Investment Package will set out an agenda for meeting those challenges and helping the Member States deliver on Europe 2020. I trust that this Convention will give the Commission and all further actors involved significant input on how best to design renewed policies for social investment and social protection capable of tackling the social challenges facing Europe today and in the future. I thank you very much for your attention. And now I would like to invite my colleague, Tonio Brog, Member of the EC in charge of Health and Consumer Policy, to address the conference. 00:17:05
10:17:05 Soundbite by Tonio Brog (in ENGLISH): I am delighted to be here today for my first public engagement as Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy. I am honoured to appear alongside Commissioner Andor to speak about social investment, and underline in particular the importance of investing in health as part of our collective efforts within the Europe 2020 agenda and in particular the poverty and social inclusion objectives. A recent Eurobarometer poll conducted across 170 European regions showed that healthcare is the third main concern of citizens, following unemployment and the overall economic situation. The political significance of health continues to rise – in the Member States, and also at European level. People's health has a direct influence on economic outcomes in terms of productivity, labour supply, skills and human capital as well as public spending on health and social care. It follows therefore that investments in health contribute to economic growth through a multi-faceted impact on health outcomes, employability and social inclusion. The Annual Growth Survey 2013 recognises the contribution of health systems to the objectives of Europe 2020. It recommends undertaking reforms of healthcare systems to ensure the cost-effectiveness and the sustainability of health systems with the double aim of more efficient use of public resources and better access to high quality healthcare. Member States have started to enshrine health systems reform in their National Reform Programmes. We must be both faithful to our values and abide by economic reasoning. This means that we must ensure our health systems are sustainable. We must continue to invest in people's health and the health workforce as key aspects of human capital. We must invest in solidarity to reduce health inequalities. Let me develop these three points in more detail. The economic crisis has had magnifying effects. Even before the pressure on public health budgets resulting from the current crisis, our systems were under pressure confronted with the progressive ageing of the European population and the increase of chronic diseases. Currently, public expenditure on health and long-term care accounts for almost 8% of GDP and are expected to increase by almost one third until 2060. Clearly, such an increase would not be sustainable. Naturally, we are proud of our models of health protection – but confronting the pressing issue of their sustainability is inescapable if we are to ensure continuity of service, maintain universal coverage and increase the level of quality. Simply cutting back on healthcare delivery and disease prevention programmes can lead to false economy, triggering worsening outcomes – for people's health, for health systems, for society and for public finances Fortunately, there are ways in which we can spend better and can build greater efficiency into today's health systems. Efficiency gains resulting from health systems reform can help Member States to achieve both a more efficient use of public resources and the provision of high quality healthcare. Of course, there is no panacea. However there are common threads towards achieving better value for money. One way could be through the most cost-effective use of new technologies – e-Health applications in particular. This can be helped by the more systematic use of health technology assessment and performance indicators within decision making processes. The Commission is actively encouraging this approach as part of the implementation of the Cross Border Healthcare Directive. Other examples towards efficiency gains are to increase the use of less expensive equivalent drugs (generics); or relying more on out-patient care. Technological progress shortens the length and invasiveness of some surgical interventions. The evolution observed in cataract surgery is a case in point, shortening time spent in hospitals and lowering the risk of surgical complications for the patient. Another route for efficiency could be to rethink the relative importance of prevention and health promotion, which currently represents only about 3% of health expenditure. Through better prevention of diseases we could reduce high long term treatment costs, improve health outcomes and also increase the financial sustainability of health systems. But of course, we need to look at the broader picture. Health is an investment in human capital and as such contributes to boosting employment and employability. The health status of individuals is strongly associated with their labour market participation. Evidence suggests that ill-health in the population of working age leads to substantial productivity loses. The healthier we are, the more productive we can be. Poor health and chronic conditions lead to absenteeism, or premature retirement amongst the workforce. 10% of people who leave their jobs do so for health reasons. Most of these conditions are preventable by acting on the main risk factors – smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, poor diet and lack of physical activity. At the same time, the healthcare sector is a key job creator and investing in health therefore means investing in health professionals – their working conditions, their education and their motivation. The healthcare sector has the capacity to create up to 8 million jobs up to 2020. Most of these openings will require high skills. This is the objectives we are pursuing through the Action Plan on health workforce that was adopted earlier this year as part of the Employment Package presented by Commissioner Andor. In addition, health-related R&D has the potential to reach one tenth of the EU’s research target of 3% of GDP. And such innovation can spill over in many other fields of the economy and society. Frequently, innovative ideas are close at hand. All it takes is to scale them up, adapted them so they work smoothly in practice, and spread the word. This is the thinking behind the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing – a stakeholder-driven approach to support innovation throughout the entire innovation cycle and across health and care sectors. Allow me now to turn to solidarity and health inequalities. In all EU Member States, the health of those in poverty is worse than the rest of the population and in some places the gaps are very big indeed. Rates of death and disability amongst the poorest fifth of the EU population are over twice as high than amongst the most affluent. Also, the differences in life expectancy at birth across the Member States are 8 years for women and 12 years for men. Such inequalities are simply not consistent with our values. Good health and access to health services is an effective safeguard against poverty. Thus, investments in health make a positive contribution towards reaching the Europe 2020 poverty and social exclusion targets. Investing in effective prevention by specifically targeting lower socio-economic groups and people of working age can make an important contribution to poverty reduction and increasing employment. One striking example of such effective prevention is vaccination – one of the most cost-effective measures to promote, in particular, children's health. The Commission is acutely aware of this problem and has highlighted the need to strengthen vaccination, in particular for vulnerable groups. The Commission is also currently running a number of pilot programmes to develop a strategy to promote consumption of healthy food among vulnerable population groups with primary household income below 50% of the EU27 average. Ladies and Gentlemen, In his State of the Union Speech, President Barroso called for new thinking in Europe. This must apply to health policies. Many of the reforms, now triggered by economic and fiscal constraints have been long overdue in many Member States: Too little attention and money has been dedicated to prevention and health promotion and to increase the effect of good health on employability and active ageing; Too many resources have gone to acute, hospital-centred care to the detriment of community based models and to the management of chronic diseases; Too little effort has been dedicated to adapting skills and working conditions of the medical and care professions to the needs of an ageing society; Too little action has been devoted to the differences in life expectancy between Member States and social groups; In 2013, we intend to finalise with the member States two Reflection Processes initiated with the Member States to establish best practices and develop guidance on the reform of health systems and on preventing and managing chronic diseases. In addition, through the implementation of the Cross Border Healthcare Directive, we will put in place specific tools for cooperation between health systems to the benefit of patients. But the Commission’s commitment does not stop there. I will work with my colleagues in the College to ensure that the structural and research funds under the Multi-annual Financial Framework will continue to provide a variety of possibilities to support smart and sustainable investments in health. I will also ensure that health becomes even more an integral part of the reforms promoted and monitored as part of the European Semester towards the Europe 2020 targets. Together with Commissioner Andor, I intend to present our views on investing in health as part of the social investment package that he will present to the College in the first few months of 2013. To conclude, the challenges before us are indeed great, but they serve to act as an incentive to encourage reforms – to bring about the necessary changes that will ensure the sustainability of health systems whilst preserving the values on which those systems are based – universality, solidarity, equity, access to good quality care. Thank you very much. 00:16:04
10:33:10 Soundbite by László Andor (in ENGLISH) thanking Tonio Borg for his participation and support and inviting Conny Reuter, President of the Platform of European Social NGOs (Social Platform) 00:00:23
10:33:33 Sounbite by Conny Reuter (in ENGLISH) on the social situation in Europe today, ways to respond to the social crisis such as investing in long term cohesion instead of cutting down on social budgets, calling for a true EU Strategy on Poverty and Social Exclusion, cooperating for implementation of true social objectives, and access to rights, resources and services for all. 00:19:41
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