Brussels, 05/03/2009

ETUC notes that none of the over-arching objectives of the Lisbon Strategy has been met to date. Indeed, the Commission's joint report on social protection and social inclusion, presented yesterday, shows that 16% of Europeans live below the poverty threshold. Similarly, the rate of poor workers (8%) proves that not all jobs offer protection against poverty, a risk that is even greater for certain less favoured groups like children (19% exposed to the risk of poverty) or older people (notably women) (19% compared with 16% in 2006).

The financial and economic crisis is making this situation worse. The EU is confronted with an unprecedented recession that could leave another six million people jobless by 2010 and have serious consequences in the social sphere. Urgent measures are needed to support employment and the creation of quality jobs.
In this context, social policy can play a key role in protecting the most vulnerable groups and stabilising purchasing power. If systems are robust, they can cushion the impact of the crisis on the economy.

ETUC therefore considers it urgent to strengthen and, if need be, to change the direction of certain policies being implemented today in the EU Member States. The sudden upsurge in unemployment reflects the increasing insecurity and flexibility of the labour market. It remains of paramount importance to improve the intermeshing of unemployment assistance and aid tied to employment in order to guarantee adequate resources and to prevent poverty among workers, with guaranteed access to quality social and healthcare services for all.

On pensions, priority needs to be given to the security of pension benefits that enable retired people to enjoy a decent standard of living.
The report recognises that in some countries, pension funds that invest in shares have been affected by the collapse of financial markets. Even if long-term strategies and the regulatory framework have helped limit the impact of the crisis for people retiring today, the losses exceed 20% of the funds' assets. Given the increase in joblessness and budget deficits and the pressure on salaries and wages, pay-as-you-go schemes will also be affected. That is why the Member States should review their conceptions of retirement schemes.

ETUC therefore urges the Member States to be more ambitious in terms of the resources, both human and financial, that they implement in these areas.

The direct involvement of the social partners and the other economic and social players is essential to developing sound measures and guaranteeing their effective implementation.

Further information

The Joint report on social protection and social inclusion 2009, as well as the national reports, are available on the DG Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities website.