Brussels, June 14th 2016
EuroHealthNet urges ministers across Europe to stimulate action to tackle poverty, social exclusion and inequalities
EuroHealthNet has welcomed the draft Council Conclusions[i] on Combatting poverty and social exclusion: an integrated approach, which is due to be discussed by national Ministers in the EPSCO Council this week (16-17 June). [ii] It congratulates the Dutch Presidency and EU Institutions for bringing forward these far-reaching Conclusions, which now should be matched by concrete actions appropriate for the unacceptable scale of “the tide” of poverty, exclusion and inequity which is faced by many millions of European people. EuroHealthNet is particularly pleased to see that evidence to which its members and partners have contributed is being taken into account:
On rising inequalities: we note the important albeit belated acknowledgement of ‘increasing divergences between and within member States”, which reflects the growing evidence behind the core purpose of EuroHealthNet to improve health and tackle inequalities. That has been borne out by the European Commission Political Strategy Centre Report on Challenges which the EU faces,[iii] as was recently discussed at the EuroHealthNet Brussels conference on “Investing in a sustainable and healthy Europe.”[iv]
On integrating across sectors: we welcome the stress in the Conclusions on the role of health and long term care systems. Evidence, including from the WHO Europe 2020 strategy,[v] shows they can contribute towards reducing poverty and exclusion, as well as preventing consequences which include clear social gradients in ill-health. Therefore we urge the EU Council to initiate proactive roles between health and social ministries, starting with integrated engagement through both days of the EPSCO meeting, plus increasing work together on key factors such as access to health.
On social investments: recognising fiscal constraints, EuroHealthNet commends the learning being developed within the EU Social Investment Package process [vi] and the EU Employment and Social Innovation (EaSI) programme.[vii] In particular we highlight that “the effectiveness of social protection systems could be improved by complementing universal systems with selective and individualised approaches targeted to those in need.” That matches the recommendations from EuroHealthNet studies such as DRIVERS [viii] and GRADIENT[ix] concerning not only proportionate universalism, but also work through the life cycle from early childhood to old age, and in inclusive and active employment approaches which tackle poverty and insecurity in work as well as in households, which are all mentioned in the draft Council Conclusions.
On concrete actions: EuroHealthNet is strongly engaged in country work with members and partners to address relevant priorities identified within the EU Semester processes. Yet too often potential key bodies are excluded. Our EaSI programme work supports the Conclusions that “all relevant stakeholders possess a rich body of knowledge allowing for the implementation of effective policies by exchanging expertise, experience and best practice.” EuroHealthNet calls on EU Ministers and Institutions to step up and ensure integration of the EU 2020 priority objectives [x] with the universal UN Sustainable Development Goals[xi] to support common actions; and to integrate innovative thinking on the potential new EU Social Pillar via the current public consultation,[xii] in which it is acknowledged that ‘the EU does not have the competence to adopt legislation for the combatting of social exclusion”. Therefore all other measures in the Acquis, including effective use of funding programmes such as ESIF[xiii] and EFSI[xiv] by all stakeholders, should be brought to bear in much more integrated ways.
EuroHealthNet Policy Director Clive Needle said ‘It is quite rare for us to be able to wholeheartedly welcome Council Conclusions without some reservations or critique based on evidence. We recognise the realistic limitation, that these are fine words which require concrete actions and policies. But the Conclusions are right to state that ‘it is time to turn the tide” to prioritise the many millions of European citizens and families who are suffering most. We have learnt through two decades of work within and across EU borders that the kind of integrated, inclusive approaches identified in the text and appended good practices offer ways to achieve the EU objectives for economic and social cohesion, rights, values and wellbeing for all its peoples. Now it is up to us all to make this approach reality”.