Nyomtatóbarát változat
Setting the scene Europe wide: the challenge of poverty and social exclusion
Hugh Frazer
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A kiadás éve:
szegénység, kirekesztés
Information on the 'Building Civil Society in Europe through Community Development' - International Conference - Budapest 25-28 March 2004
Raktári jelzet:

Hugh Frazer (Ireland/ EU)

Setting the scene Europe wide: the challenge of poverty and social exclusion

This paper will link building civil society with the need to tackle poverty and social exclusion in an enlarged European Union and so build a socially inclusive Europe. It will draw particularly on an analysis of the National Action Plans on poverty and social inclusion prepared by all the existing Member States in mid-2003 and the Joint Memoranda on Social Inclusion prepared by the 10 acceding countries and signed in December 2003. The paper is based on four core understandings. First, a key barrier to building civil society in Europe is the persistent and high level of poverty and social exclusion. This weakens people's ability to access their basic rights and thus weakens participatory democracy. Secondly, a key reason for building civil society is that this is essential if we are to successfully tackle and prevent poverty and social exclusion and build more inclusive societies. Thirdly, community development has a central but as yet inadequately acknowledged role to play in building civil society and tackling poverty and social exclusion in Europe. Fourthly, cohesive and inclusive societies cannot be built by just a narrow focus on economic and employment growth, important though these are. At the heart of the European social model is an understanding that successful and sustainable economic, employment and social policies are mutually interdependent and they must thus be developed in ways that are mutually reinforcing.
That tackling social exclusion must be at the heart of our efforts to build civil society is evident from the evidence. More than 55 million people or 15 % of the EU population were living at risk of poverty in 2001. More than half of them lived persistently on low relative income. Across the Union there are considerable differences in the severity of the problem. For instance, the overall risk of poverty ranged in 2001 between 10% in Sweden and 21% in Ireland. In Southern countries, as well as in Ireland, poor people not only benefit comparatively less from the overall prosperity of their respective countries, but also are more likely to be subject to more persistent forms of poverty and deprivation. The risk of poverty tends to be significantly higher for particular groups such as the unemployed, single parents (mainly women), older people living alone (also women mainly) and families with numerous children. Children and young people have a greater risk of poverty than adults. Of course some people have very high risks such as people with disabilities, the homeless, ex-prisoners, street children. Looking at the situation in acceding and candidate countries it is clear that large sections of the populations live on low income and lack access to some basic services and facilities. In most applicant countries unemployment is high and social protection systems are not sufficiently developed in order to provide secure income to elderly, sick or disabled people. In some, the social situation of ethnic minorities, of children, of people who are mentally ill, of people leaving institutions raises particularly serious concerns. In several countries the position of the Roma is very worrying. On the other hand, income inequality is generally lower (the risk of relative income poverty is on average 13% compared to the EU15 15% but as with the EU15 varies widely - from 5% in Slovak Republic to 18% in Estonia) and lifelong learning performance is better than in many present Member States.
Across Europe we are not in a static situation. We need to take into account important changes that are taking place in our societies such as: the major structural changes in the labour market arising from globalisation and especially the impact of industrial liberalisation and restructuring and agricultural change in the acceding/candidate countries; the growth of the knowledge based society; the effect of ageing populations and higher dependency rates and increasing demands for care services; the impact of increased migration and ethnic diversity; the trend to greater equality between men and women and in particular higher labour market participation by women; the continuing changes in household structures with continuing high levels of family break ups, growing numbers of lone parent families and the trend towards the deinstitutionalisation of family life. These trends create both new opportunities for social inclusion but also new risks of exclusion and significantly affect the context within which we work.
The risk factors associated with poverty and social exclusion while varying in intensity generally appear common across existing and new Member States. These include: long-term dependence on low/inadequate income, long-term unemployment, low quality or absence of employment record, low level of education and training and illiteracy, growing up in a vulnerable family, disability, health problems and difficult living conditions, living in an area of multiple disadvantage, housing problems and homelessness, immigration, ethnicity, racism and discrimination.
Given the complex and multi-dimensional nature of poverty and social exclusion there are many and varied issues that need to be addressed. However, certainly at the level of the EU Commission, there seems to be a growing consensus that seven policy priorities stand out if the momentum on tackling poverty and social exclusion is to be maintained. These are:
– promoting investment in and tailoring of active labour market measures to meet the needs of those who have the greatest difficulties in accessing employment;
– ensuring that social protection schemes are adequate and accessible for all to live life with dignity and that they provide effective work incentives for those who can work;
– increasing the access of the most vulnerable and those most at risk of social exclusion to decent housing, quality health and lifelong learning opportunities;
– implementing a concerted effort to prevent early school leaving and to promote smooth transition from school to work;
– developing a focus on ending child poverty as a key step to stop the intergenerational inheritance of poverty;
– making a drive to reduce poverty and social exclusion of immigrants and ethnic minorities, particularly the Roma;
– developing policies to maintain networks of family and social support and foster social capital.
As important as the policy priorities are in themselves there is growing recognition that they need to be developed and delivered in an integrated and co-ordinated way at local level and especially in communities facing multiple disadvantage. Equally important is the involvement of those experiencing poverty and social exclusion and the NGOs representing them in the delivery and monitoring of these policies and programmes at both local and national levels and indeed at European level. This above all is where the role of community development becomes crucial.