Social rights: EU can and should encourage work being done on the ground

Published by The Parliament Magazine, 18 August 2017.

The EU is becoming increasingly vocal on social rights. Whether through the European pillar of social rights, rhetoric on harnessing globalisation, or declarations by the Council, it’s undeniable that the EU’s social dimension is currently in the limelight. To push forward its aspirations of reducing inequalities, it’s time for the EU to promote social inclusion as a key element of a strong social – and economic – Europe.

One vital aspect of social inclusion is giving people a sense of empowerment, which is what we saw during our fact finding visit to Sweden to meet organisations working on the economic inclusion of low- and medium-skilled migrants. Migrant women in particular face a number of intersecting inequalities, including in areas important to establishing a business such as finance and education.

The Ester Foundation in Helsingborg supports women with migrant backgrounds to start-up their own businesses. Many of these women have experienced social exclusion, including unemployment and marginalisation, for a long time, affecting their self-esteem and confidence.

It’s for this reason that the programme runs for 18 months – much longer than normal labour market activities, which last around three months.

Business models too can promote social inclusion, specifically in the social economy. They show that it’s possible to conduct business in a way that puts people and planet before profit. While selling much-needed products and services on the market, social enterprises are committed to producing a positive social impact.

In addition, they have a positive economic impact by bringing people into the labour market – approximately 11 million people or six per cent of the total employment rate.

In May I joined a Social Platform fact finding visit to Madrid and met the Carmen Pardo Valcarce Foundation, which runs occupational centres for people with intellectual disabilities.

This is particularly important as the latest EU statistics show that 47.3 per cent of people with disabilities have experienced difficulties in accessing the labour market leading to social exclusion, which is 20 per cent higher than the rate for people without disabilities.

The social economy can also support the social inclusion of people experiencing long-term unemployment. Although the EU unemployment rate dropped to 8.5 per cent in 2016, long-term unemployment – people unemployed for 12 months or longer – accounted for 46.4 per cent of those people.

Insertadix del Mediterraneo, a work integration social enterprise based in Alicante and run by El Cerezo, was set up in the context of extremely high unemployment rates in the region.

In 2015 El Cerezo signed an agreement with associations of small- and medium-sized enterprises defining concrete actions and ways of collaborating to promote greater and better inclusion of people at risk of social exclusion, thus contributing to the implementation of companies’ policies on quality employment.

These are just three examples of work being done on the ground to promote the social inclusion of people in vulnerable situations – work that the EU can and should encourage.

How it turns words into action on the European pillar of social rights will determine whether it is serious about promoting social rights and social inclusion, or merely paying lip-service to these much needed goals.

One thing is for sure; by shining a light on and learning lessons from the successes of organisations like Ester Foundation, Carmen Pardo-Valcarce Foundation and El Cerezo, civil society can play their part in ensuring that social inclusion becomes a reality for all.