On 4 March, the European Commission launched its proposal for an action plan of the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR). The proposal includes a series of initiatives and three key objectives, including reducing the number of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion by 15 million by 2030. The European Social Network (ESN) highlights the importance of providing a roadmap and clear targets but emphasises that this will only be effectively implemented through partnering with the regional and local social services that have the statutory duty of furthering social inclusion.

In its Europe 2020 Strategy, the EU adopted five headline targets, including lifting at least 20 million people out of the risk of poverty or social exclusion by 2020. In 2019, the estimated number of people lifted out of poverty and social exclusion between 2008 and 2018 (latest Eurostat figures so far) was 7.2 million, far away from achieving the 20 million target, which seems to be largely missed.

While the commitment to reduce by 15 million the number of people at risk of poverty and social exclusion is welcome, this seems to be far away from the UN recommendation to reducing poverty by 50% equally across Member States by 2030. A total of 19.4 million children, representing 23.1% are estimated to be at risk of poverty across the EU, hence the target of lifting 5 million children out of poverty and social exclusion (within the 15 million global target) seems low compared with the challenge.

The proposal for the Pillar action plan that the Commission launched yesterday includes a series of individual actions relevant for social inclusion, such as the disability strategy (also launched this week), the future child guarantee and platform against homelessness. However, actions largely miss key areas of improvement for local social services which are key in the implementation of most Pillar principles. For instance, a long-term care plan and a social services and social care workforce strategy seem to be largely absent as well as initiatives to improve the social services sector, like a review of the European social services quality framework.

Efforts have been made to broaden the set of indicators introduced in 2014 for the Social Scoreboard, but further developments should include disaggregating indicators by age, gender, and disability. This exercise could be relevant to assess the impact of social transfers under principles 14 or 15 of the Pillar but also help in collecting data of children, adults, and older people in care, relevant for the implementation of principles 11, 17 or 18.

The Commission acknowledges that engagement of national, regional, and local authorities together with social partners and civil society will be essential to ensure an effective implementation of the Pillar. However, there is a lack of specific proposals as to how this engagement could take place and instead encourages national coordination mechanisms.

Following the announcement of the Commission’s action plan on the EPSR, Alfonso Lara Montero, ESN’s CEO, said: “We welcome this plan, which includes important measures to promote a more inclusive Europe. In our proposals to help shape future reform we have called for the recognition of the essential role of public social services, investment on public social services to realise the targets of the action plan, and support of national, regional and local authorities to set up a care guarantee for all.

Publication of this plan should be seen as just the first step in an important journey over the coming months that will help shape all of our futures. This journey should incorporate important outstanding issues, including a workforce strategy, support for children, families and carers, improved partnership of employment and social services, support for the homeless or those at risk of homelessness, and investment in a new model of community and home care for people with disabilities and adults with long-term needs.”