Anna Lisa Boni, Secretary General, EUROCITIES explains why the fight against poverty and social exclusion is a social challenge for Europe
One year on from the adoption of the European Pillar of Social Rights, cities are taking the lead in the fight against poverty and social exclusion across Europe.
As the level of government closest to people and the local economy, city authorities are the first to see that labour markets are changing, that we are facing an urgent housing crisis and that inequality is rapidly rising in Europe. At a time when one in four people in the European Union (EU) are at risk of poverty or social exclusion, it is now more important than ever to ensure social rights for all people and preserve social cohesion.
With this in mind, the success or failure of policies like the European Pillar of Social Rights depends on the effective involvement of local authorities. Yet, cities cannot act alone.
Inclusive cities for all
We need a fairer, more equal and inclusive Europe that puts people at its centre. The Pillar helps provide political momentum to deliver concrete actions on the ground, which is the spirit behind our new EUROCITIES initiative ‘Inclusive cities for all: Social rights in my city’.
21 cities, representing more than 20 million citizens have so far pledged €4.32 billion in city measures to implement the principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights.
Nine of the 21 cities have pledged to build 75,000 new affordable housing units by 2024 with an investment of over €2.17 billion, reflecting a pressing challenge for cities in terms of rising homelessness due to a shortage of affordable housing. And we expect more cities to follow suit.
Many cities, of course, were already committed to delivering inclusive social policies to promote social rights for all people long before the arrival of the EU Social Pillar. However, in a recent report, we found that cities’ efforts are not always known or recognised at national and EU levels.
It’s clear that most city authorities, when faced with the urgent needs of their citizens and residents, go beyond their legal responsibilities to provide social inclusion measures in areas such as inclusive education, promoting gender equality and equal opportunities, and delivering active support for employment.
Poverty and social exclusion take the hardest toll on the most vulnerable groups in our society, including migrants and refugees, the long-term unemployed, people with disabilities, and those living in the most deprived areas of our cities.
As cities, there are many things we can do to help as many people as possible, such as taking measures to prevent school dropout, improve literacy, skills and qualification levels of adults, and facilitate the transition from education or training to employment. We can also introduce social clauses in our public procurement contracts to promote gender equality, and inclusive training, the employment of migrants, the long-term unemployed, and the under-qualified.
We work locally to coordinate broad local partnerships between public services, employers, training providers, social enterprises, civil society and NGOs to match demand and supply on the local labour market.
Every person matters
As mayors and city leaders from across Europe, we are committed to turning the Pillar principles into tangible actions on the ground, but we need better means to tackle these challenges and improve the lives of those who are most at risk of exclusion.
City authorities work locally through integrated approaches to social problems, often combining different European funds and linking social provisions with appropriate activation measures to promote social inclusion in the local community and in society at large. We need to have more resources allocated at the local level from state budgets and better access to EU funds to build capacity for local measures and services that provide tailored support to the most vulnerable groups.
We are ready to work with the EU institutions as strategic partners towards these goals of building a socially sustainable future for Europe and its people. As partners in EU policymaking, we can ensure that EU level social policies respond to the real needs and current challenges of people on the ground. This includes the priorities in the future ESF+ operational programmes.
Every person matters and every citizen should feel able to participate fully in every aspect of our society. The principles of ensuring everyone has the right and access to inclusive education, training and employment, adequate housing, healthcare and long-term care, and feels welcome are worth fighting for. As cities, we are taking up this challenge.
EUROCITIES is the political platform for major European cities. We network the local governments of over 140 of Europe’s largest cities and more than 40 partner cities that between them govern some 130 million citizens across 39 countries. www.eurocities.eu
Anna Lisa Boni
Tel: +32 2 552 0888
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