Joint Report on Social Protection and Inclusion

Social protection reforms and active inclusion policies have visibly
contributed to higher growth and more jobs in Europe over the past year.
Still, more needs to be done to ensure that these benefits reach those at the
margins of society and improve social cohesion, says a Commission report to be
discussed by Employment and Social Affairs Ministers on 29 February. The 2008
'Joint Report on Social Protection and Inclusion' focuses on priorities and
progress made in the areas of child poverty, working longer, private pension
provision, health inequalities and long-term care.

"Our social protection reforms and social inclusion policies are paying off:
they promote social cohesion and growth by bringing more people into the labour
market and making public finances more sustainable," said Vladimír Špidla, EU
Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities. "But
healthy growth and job creation do not automatically improve the situation of
those most marginalised within our societies. We need joined up policies to
make sure we fully include the most vulnerable."

This year's report focuses on a number of key themes - a recent innovation that
has added value to the EU's 'Open Method of Coordination' in the field of
social policies. It has increased understanding, promoted mutual learning and
encouraged better monitoring and more focussed reporting. Overall, progress has
been promising, but the report highlights a series of areas to focus future

1. Employment rates have risen for all categories of older workers. The overall
employment rate of those aged 55-64 has risen from 38% in 2001 to 44% in 2006
and the Lisbon target of 50% in 2010 has been reached by nine countries
(Denmark, Estonia, Ireland, Cyprus, Latvia, Portugal, Finland, Sweden and the
United Kingdom), although it is still as low as 30% in some. Active inclusion
measures, as well as pension and labour market reforms, have improved
incentives to work but still more people need to work. Together with efforts to
improve productivity this will contribute to a sounder base for social
protection systems and adequacy and sustainability of pensions, provided that
labour markets are opened up to older workers.

2. While pension reforms are well under way, they need to be monitored
regularly as regards their impact on future sustainability and adequacy,
particularly for those with atypical career patterns. Awareness of the risks
associated with different pension schemes should be raised, thereby promoting
informed choices.

3. 16% of EU citizens remain at risk of poverty while some 8% are at risk of
poverty despite being employed. Out of the 78 million Europeans living at risk
of poverty, 19 million are children. Ensuring equal opportunities for all
through well-designed social policies, and strengthening educational outcomes
for each child, are needed to break the cycle of poverty and exclusion.
Inclusion and anti-discrimination policies need to be reinforced, not least in
relation to immigrants and their descendants and to ethnic minorities.

4. When children are poor, it is because they live in jobless or low
work-intensity households or because their parents' jobs do not pay
sufficiently and income support is inadequate to ward off the risk of poverty.
Fighting child poverty therefore requires a combination of quality job
opportunities allowing parents to integrate and progress in the labour market,
adequate and well-designed income support and the provision of necessary
services for children and their families. The appropriate balance must be
struck between helping families and targeting children in their own right. The
best performers target the most disadvantaged children within a broader
universal approach supporting all children.

5. Social policies have a major impact on health and health is an important
determinant of life chances. There are currently wide disparities in health
outcomes across the EU, with men's life expectancies ranging from 65.3 years
(Lithuania) to 78.8 (Cyprus and Sweden) and those for women from 76.2 (Romania)
to 84.4 (France). Health concerns should be adopted in all policies, including
promoting healthy life styles, while social protection should ensure access for
all to quality healthcare and long-term care and promote prevention, including
for those most difficult to reach.

6. Demographic and societal change trigger rising needs for long-term care.
Member States are committed to increasing access to quality services but
providing such quality services remains a challenge. The right balance needs to
be struck between public and private responsibilities and formal and informal
care, including ensuring support for informal carers.

More information

AplusA-online.de - Source: European Agency for Safety and Health at Work