Time to address persistent inequalities, Social Platform urges EU Social Protection and Employment committees

On 20 May, Social Platform spoke at a joint virtual meeting of the European Union’s Social Protection Committee (SPC) and Employment Committee (EMCO) to share its first reaction to the newly published country-specific recommendations for the year 2020, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The country-specific recommendations (CSRs) form part of the European Semester process, which you can learn more about here.

Following the European Commission’s presentation of the Spring Package as well as the initial reactions of the social partners representing employers and employees, Heather Roy, who sits on Social Platform’s Management Committee, started her presentation by highlighting the significant impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. She said:

 “At heart, we are seeing a magnification of issues that already existed: underinvestment in public services including health and social care services, inadequacy of social protection, undervaluing of key workers such as those in health and social care and the drastic inequalities that exist in our societies, both in terms of economic and social inequalities and access to basic rights. This pandemic has shown a stronger light on what was already there in such a way that it cannot be ignored any longer.”

She underlined the importance of the Semester process, which must recommend the right policy reforms for EU countries to undertake to tackle the crisis. Indeed, these reforms must be people-centred, ensure that no one is left behind and build more secure social protection and active inclusion systems that are the foundation for more resilient societies that can better face future crises.

Giving her feedback on the Spring Package, Ms Roy generally welcomed the attempt of the country-specific recommendations to focus both on immediate crisis response as well as necessary medium-term reforms. She also welcomed the acknowledgement of the specific social impact of the pandemic on vulnerable groups. However, she was critical of the fact that the Spring Package mainly describes the impact on people through an employment lens, underlining that there is more to people than their employment status. Indeed, certain groups at heightened risk of poverty, social exclusion and discrimination are also disproportionately affected by the impact of this crisis, such as children, youths, older people, women, people with disabilities, the LGBTIQ community, homeless people, migrants and refugees, and ethnic and religious minorities. All people must have access to adequate income, health and long-term care as well as other services. This means looking carefully at the universality of social protection schemes and avoiding gaps.

Ms Roy also expressed her appreciation for attention paid to the issue of income and references to the need to reinforce cooperation between social services, health care and long-term care. She highlighted significant existing issues with regards to access to quality and affordable health and care services, including long-term care, and social services, which must be a high priority for action and for investment, alongside adequate social protection and safety nets. She expressed her hope that EU countries will arrange their national recovery on that basis – ensuring we do not repeat the mistakes of the 2008 crisis where investment in social services was curtailed, resulting in more vulnerability, more poverty and a delayed recovery.

Regarding the structure of the 2020 CSRs, she expressed concerns about their limited number. While it is important to enable EU countries to define their responses to the pandemic, it must be avoided that social considerations are ignored by a rigid adoption of ‘if it is not a CSR it does not get priority’. The limited number of CSRs is especially problematic, considering that they are being increasingly linked to funding through the EU structural funds and the future recovery plan.

Ms Roy finished her presentation by underscoring the importance of civil dialogue at all levels in the European Semester process, as civil society organisations work with and represent the interests of people and organisations, including those who are most vulnerable and are traditionally underrepresented in decision-making and who are now among the most strongly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Only if civil society organisations are fully involved can it be ensured that reforms correspond to the situation on the ground and have the necessary impact.

Ms Roy’s full speech can be read here.

More information on our views with regards to necessary reforms of the European Semester process can be found in our analysis of the 2019 Semester cycle.