Today, European leaders, the European Parliament, and the European Commission agreed to enact a mechanism to improve living and working conditions of citizens through a joint proclamation on the ‘European Pillar of Social Rights’. This is a major milestone for public health. It marks a shift to policy making and strategic support which addresses the social determinants of health. If executed effectively, it will improve the health and wellbeing of many. The public health community should now prepare to take a leading role in implementation. It should seize this opportunity to reduce health inequalities.
The European Pillar of Social Rights consists of a number of principles, rights, and initiatives which the European institutions hope will support well-functioning and fair labour markets, welfare systems, and resilient economic structures, thereby improving living conditions, health and wellbeing of citizens. The Pillar defines 20 rights and principles in three categories: equal opportunities and access to the labour market, fair working conditions, and social protection and inclusion. Each of the 20 principles have strong links to health and wellbeing. Issues addressed include education, work/life balance, working environments, and child support. Importantly, the Pillar stresses the right to access quality health care, including preventative care.
The outline of the Pillar was first presented by the European Commission in April 2017. Now Member States and European Institutions have stated their support for the initiative, and implementation can begin. European Law in relevant areas will be updated, complemented with new measures, and better applied. The responsibility for implementation of the Pillar will be shared between Member States, European Institutions, social partners, and other stakeholders. The public health sector has an important role to play in the implementation phase.
“We call on health ministries and public health leaders to take their responsibility to act on these principles, ensuring that the measures applied are based on the best available evidence. Access to health care, as well as good social protection, childcare, and support for children are essential elements for health equity.” – Caroline Costongs, EuroHealthNet Director.
The next steps for national and regional bodies working in health are to assess the measures contained within the Social Pillar. Their contribution, made in close cooperation with national governments and relevant sectors, can ensure that the Pillar is implemented in an effective and equitable way. EuroHealthNet is supporting its members in doing so.
Further information about the Social Pillar can be found on the European Commission website.