Social Platform statement on the COVID-19 pandemic

We have entered a new normal. Much like the financial crisis in 2008, the COVID-19 pandemic will change the global political, social and economic landscape for years to come. This new chapter brings with it new challenges, as well as some old challenges that civil society can play an important role in resolving. As the largest network of civil society organisations in the European Union advocating for a social Europe, Social Platform promotes a socio-economic system that tackles inequalities, includes all members of society and respects human rights. Now more than ever, we urge EU and national leaders to put this mission at the heart of their activities.

Today, as in 2008, we are faced with incalculable risks and, as in all major crises, we turn to the state to manage them. The majority of our political leaders are following the advice of the scientific experts, with the goal of saving lives, while trying to adjust the economy to make this happen. We welcome the strong focus on the health and safety of people in the face of this pandemic and hope that this will not be compromised as the economic impact of this crisis is addressed. Looking forward, the EU must embrace social protection as a strong foundation upon which we build inclusive, sustainable and more resilient societies.

Today and going forward, it is vital that the actions taken by leaders are inclusive. Policies must be developed that leave no one behind, including groups at heightened risk of poverty, social exclusion and discrimination: children, youths, older people, women, people with disabilities, the LGBTIQ community, homeless people, migrants and refugees, and ethnic and religious minorities. These policies can be the basis for long-term changes that build more resilient societies that can better face crises in the future. Many Social Platform members are already doing their part to ensure that solidarity and justice are upheld during this crisis – particularly for the most vulnerable in society – and a compilation of their reactions and responses can be found here.

The situation is ongoing, and leaders are having to adapt their responses as new information comes to light. All measures taken in response to the pandemic should always ensure that fundamental rights, the rule of law and democratic principles are protected. Under no circumstances should this crisis be used to undermine any of the founding values of the EU. 

There are certain areas where it is already clear that improvements to existing policies and practices can and should be taken: services, employment and income, economic governance and funding.

Health and social service providers are doing an excellent job on the frontline of this crisis, and the absolute urgency is to equip our services, and especially health and essential social services, with ample resources to cope. Over 100,000 not-for-profit organisations in Europe also provide health and social services and support people in need in very difficult conditions due to a lack of protective materials and sustainable funding, social distancing and self-isolation measures. All health and social services should remain available, affordable, accessible and of quality for all who need them, for as long as they are required. An exceptional effort should be made to adequately finance public services, as well as social and health services provided by non-profit organisations. Above all, it is necessary to ensure that human rights are upheld in all Member States in their national responses to the pandemic: access to health care, social care and social protection must not be compromised by discrimination on any grounds.

Employment and Income
Unlike the response to the financial crisis, sustaining demand and reviving activity is not the answer to current challenges. On the contrary, governments are currently reducing demand to a bare minimum in order to gradually halt the pandemic. Naturally, this approach brings with it grave consequences for workers and businesses, particularly for those with precarious employment contracts. To tackle this, leaders should prioritise the avoidance of dismissals through generalised and well-compensated unemployment benefits, and small businesses and social enterprises should be given adequate support to avoid bankruptcy. Additionally, the European Commission should bring forward its work on adequate minimum income.  Now it is more crucial than ever that leaders improve the level of benefits available, including through a framework directive on minimum income and the Unemployment Reinsurance Scheme Mechanism, to ensure that these benefits are adequate to lift people out of poverty and prevent new groups of people affected by this crisis from falling into poverty.

Economic Governance
The EU has relaxed restrictive measures of the Stability and Growth Pact to give Member States greater freedom to increase expenditure to contain and address the pandemic, protect the jobs and incomes of workers directly affected, and preserve the liquidity of businesses. It is vital that this flexibility remains in the long-term, so that Member States can put in place effective social protection systems. The European Commission recently launched a review of its economic governance. While this is a work in progress, measures taken now should be followed by structural measures that promote investment, including social investment, and sustainable economic development. In the long-term, a complete revision of the European fiscal framework is necessary to unearth much needed additional resources to invest in public services. Meaningful involvement of civil society organisations that can share expertise on the social situation on the ground is integral to the success of this process.

We welcome the Commission’s proposal for a Corona Response Investment Initiative, which includes targeting the health care systems and other vulnerable parts of our economies. This should also support the continuity of social service provision across the EU and ensure inclusive and equal access to health care and social services. The crisis is having a strong impact on the ability of EU-funded civil society organisations and projects to carry out their missions, and as such we call on the European Commission to take a flexible approach to ensure that the important work carried out by this sector is not compromised.

Next steps
There is a long way to go until the dust settles on this crisis and a comprehensive analysis of the social and economic repercussions can take place. Intergenerational solidarity between countries, societies and individuals has seldom been more important. While the current situation is tragic, from the ashes we can build a more inclusive and sustainable EU with the health and safety of people at its heart. Now is the time for the EU to show its mettle: only a community response with a clear focus on protecting the most vulnerable and recognising the need to strengthen social protection systems will suffice for our collective recovery.

(Updated on 2 April 2020)