Combating poverty & Social Exclusion
A shift in focus towards combating poverty - especially child poverty - and social exclusion and putting forward proposals to alleviate the problems faced by the disadvantaged and vulnerable is central to the European United Left/Nordic Green Left group’s work on social policy.
GUE/NGL believes in a social union where everyone has equal access to social protections and welfare provisions. In this vein we continue to fight against the privatisation of healthcare and water. Austerity policies are endangering access to care for the most vulnerable citizens, such as the disabled. They are driving people into extreme poverty. It is a disgrace that there is so much poverty and social exclusion in Europe. We must build a Europe where people can live in dignity.
Poverty & Social Exclusion
The view of the European United Left/Nordic Green Left group is that neoliberal policies and austerity programmes are the root cause of growing unemployment, poverty and social exclusion. A November 2011 report on the European Platform against poverty and social exclusion, despite fair criticisms of social reality in the EU and some proposals that the group supported, doesn't tackle the real reasons for poverty and its intensification. The Group presented a set of amendments proposing radical changes to EU economic, financial and social policy, and demanding a Partnership for Progress and Social Development.
The situation of the poor, the homeless and the most disadvantaged sectors of our society was a recurrent theme during this term of office. GUE/NGL reiterated its calls for more help for the poor and less for banks and the financial world saying that we need to bring an immediate end to the sell-off of public assets and social security systems. We need minimum social and environmental standards. During winter, we must not allow people to be thrown out on the street, or deported, or ultimately even to freeze to death, because of rising energy prices. We have a joint responsibility in this respect, in other words, the responsibility of the European Union. We must stand up for this right. A spell of cold weather at the beginning of 2012 highlighted the plight of homeless people across the EU. The group called for a task force to be set up, uniform statistics and indicators to be drawn up on the extent of this problem. It said: this spell of cold weather is bringing to light the deplorable failures in the way human rights are safeguarded in Europe and within the European Union. The policies of the Member States and of the European Union have failed across the board where this issue is concerned. Most of the people who freeze to death or are taken to hospital severely ill from the cold are homeless people; people who, for one reason or another, are living on the streets. They are freezing to death in the open air, under bridges, in parks, in side streets, but increasingly also in unheated homes. With the huge increases in energy costs they may have been unable to pay their energy bills, or their heating may be antiquated or may have failed completely. All member states have an obligation to implement urgent immediate measures to save people who have no protection from the cold. Local and regional authorities need to be supported in their efforts to provide the necessary assistance.
A report, drafted by GUE/NGL MEP Ilda Figueiredo on an EU-wide minimum income challenged the European Commission to come up with a framework directive on a minimum income. The group considers that poverty and social exclusion are violations of human dignity and fundamental human rights. Minimum income schemes based on at least 60% of median income in each country would be an effective tool to fight the consequences of social exclusion, unemployment and poverty wages. Such schemes have an important role in the redistribution of income and play a counter-cyclical economic role by providing additional resources to enhance demand and consumption in the domestic market, thereby counteracting recession.
Free food programme
Attempts to slash the budget for the EU's free food distribution scheme from €500 million to €113 million were condemned by GUE/NGL. The group maintained that we can't just idly sit back and see poverty grow while it is the result of the austerity measures adopted by EU governments. We are cutting food aid to the poorest while their numbers are increasing. This situation is unacceptable when we consider that several billion Euros were found to bail out the banks. Subsequently, when there was a threat of the programme not being renewed at all, because six of the EU's wealthiest member states blocked its continuation, the Group said it was a shameful fact that 18 million people depended on food donations in the EU today. This extension must go ahead without any further delay. We want to continue to make progress and if we want the citizens of the European Union to have confidence in us to create a social Union with a strong sense of solidarity. We should also ensure that it is a simple fund, with less red tape. Without mandatory involvement of member states, one cannot talk about EU solidarity. There is an additional need to guarantee transitional arrangements between the old and new programmes and the use of surplus food stocks, such as fruit and vegetables. Fundamentally, we need to put a stop to the rise of poverty in Europe.