On 4 March 2021, the European Commission
published the Action Plan on the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR).
This drew attention to the significant impact of COVID-19 on jobs and social
systems across Europe. In its Porto Declaration of 8 May 2021, the European Council recognised
this and underlined the EU's commitment to intensify the implementation of EPSR
at EU and national level. Fair wages, combating social exclusion and poverty,
promoting equality and fairness and supporting young people, as well as
reducing risks of exclusion of vulnerable social groups, are seen as
appropriate means to achieve this.
A comprehensive report by the European
Social Policy Network (ESPN) has now examined the national responses to the
COVID-19 crisis in relation to social protection in the 27 EU Member States,
the UK and the 7 candidate and potential candidate countries.
Quick responses were helpful
The main focus was on measures in the
labour market, healthcare and support for working parents. An overall rapid
response through the introduction of often temporary measures - most notably,
in general terms, the relaxation of eligibility conditions, the raising of
benefit levels and the creation of new ad hoc social and employment security
schemes and tax relief - was observed. These emergency measures, some of which
would have seemed impossible before, have been instrumental in averting a
massive social crisis. However, they also highlight the weaknesses and gaps in
existing social protection and inclusion policies that need to be urgently
addressed. Although the measures were the most important tools to address the socio-economic
impact of the pandemic, the report underlines their limited potential of the
countries' social protection systems to transform.
Data is important
A number of specific measures are proposed
which could usefully be considered at national and/or EU level. Thus, the
preparation of studies, aiming at a thorough review of the immediate and
long-term impact of the pandemic and of the (mostly temporary) protective
measures taken, as well as the collection, analysis and publication of data on
COVID-19 and its impact are strongly recommended. From these, policy-makers
would then have to deduce targeted options for action.
The one-of-a-kind situation created by the
COVID pandemic should be used to initiate political reforms; again, the idea of
a minimum income in all European states is mentioned here. In particular, the
2019 European Council recommendations on access to social protection could also
be implemented for groups of people who so far have little or no access to a
minimum level of social protection. Platform workers in particular should be
mentioned here, although this group now enjoys a strong political will on the
part of both the European Commission and the Parliament to move in precisely
Click here to read the report.