A series of steps have been taken by the European Commission and EU Member States in the 12 months following the Commission's adoption of a comprehensive strategy for structural reforms in social policy to help Member States better protect and invest in people: the Social Investment Package (SIP).
The Social Investment Package gives guidance to Member States on adopting more efficient and effective social policies in response to the significant challenges they currently face. These include high levels of financial distress, growing inequality, increasing poverty and social exclusion, and record unemployment, especially among young people. These are combined with the challenge of ageing societies and smaller working age populations, which test the sustainability and adequacy of national social systems.
The SIP has offered Member States extensive guidance on investing in children, active inclusion, health and long term care, homelessness and social policy innovation.
Achievements in the past year
The Commission has worked together with Member States on a methodology to assess the efficiency and effectiveness of social policies. The concept is introduced in detail in the report on Employment and Social Developments in Europe 2013, published on 21 January 2014. The methodology can spot key social challenges in the European Semester, the EU's yearly cycle for coordinating economic, employment and social policies.
The Commission has also started work on so-called "reference budgets", that help Member States to design efficient and adequate minimum income support. It has also delivered on its commitment to propose new rules to make bank accounts cheaper, more transparent and accessible to all.
To step up investment in children, the Commission has created a European Platform for Investing in Children which collects and disseminates evidence-based innovative good practices in such areas as early childhood education and care or parenting support. It is also organising capacity-building seminars in particular in Member States which have received Country Specific Recommendations on fighting child poverty.
New rules setting out an EU Social Entrepreneurship Fund were adopted, and the Commission organised a high-level conference to disseminate good practise in supporting social entrepreneurship.
Additionally, from 2014 onwards, the Employment and Innovation (EaSI) programme brings together three EU programmes managed separately between 2007 and 2013: PROGRESS, EURES and Progress Microfinance. Its objectives are amongst others to support development of adequate social protection systems, and increase access to financial means to social entrepreneurs.
The new programming period of the European Social Fund has allocated at least 20% in each Member State to be used for social inclusion and this will help to support social investment in line with the priorities set through Country Specific Recommendations. Furthermore, the European Fund for Aid to the Most Deprived will, in the same time period, provide material assistance in the form of food or basic consumer goods or social inclusion measures to the most deprived and children.
Building upon the European Year 2012 on active ageing, the Commission has also published the Guiding principles for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations and the Active Ageing index.
The Commission is also working in partnership with stakeholders, policy-makers and the civil society in the framework of the European Platform against Poverty and Social Exclusion. The 3rd Annual Convention of the Platform debated how the Social Investment Package is implemented at country level and fostered shared ownership and commitment for action. In addition, the Commission signed 14 partnership agreements with organisations active in the field of social inclusion. Furthermore, the European Code of Conduct on Partnership allows national Stakeholders to be better involved in forthcoming programmes co-funded by the EU funds which address social investment issues.
All measures undertaken and planned are published in a roadmap available on the Commission website.
Member State response
In line with the SIP, Member States have already taken steps to modernise their welfare systems by adopting integrated strategies to fight poverty and social exclusion and structural reforms. Some Member States have adopted a social investment approach by refocusing spending on children in a targeted and efficient way in order to break the intergenerational transmission of poverty.
For example, on 10 June 2013 Belgium presented a national child poverty action plan which explicitly refers to the Commission Recommendation ‘Investing in children: breaking the cycle of disadvantage’ and contains 140 concrete actions aimed at improving access to adequate resources and affordable quality services. Germany, France, Hungary, Latvia, Poland and the UK also took initiatives to extend child enrolment in early childhood education and care as part of their strategies to improve opportunities for children.
Many Member States also took measures for reducing poverty and supporting inclusion in the labour market, such as:
- Belgium, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Spain and Poland focussed on an active inclusion approach and adopted national strategies which combine initiatives on income support, access to services and active labour market measures.
- Cyprus, Ireland, Croatia, Poland and Sweden increased resources allocated to active labour market policy measures for 2013
- Bulgaria, Hungary; The Netherlands and Portugal adopted measures to improve the labour market situation of unemployed and disadvantaged people.
- Hungary, Estonia, Belgium, the UK and Spain took steps towards administrative simplification.
- Spain, The Netherlands, UK, Hungary, Slovakia, Latvia adopted measures to tackle homelessness and improve access to housing.