European Law Monitor

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European Law Monitor NewsMEPs say poverty is still too widespread

In an own-initiative report on Social Reality Stocktaking, the European Parliament calls on the Commission and Member States to pursue "an ambitious objective of reducing poverty, especially among working people, in Europe". The report by Elizabeth Lynne (ALDE, UK) welcomes the Commission's forthcoming proposal to make 2010 the European Year of Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion. However, it also highlights the scale of the effort needed.

Over 50 million people or around 16% of the EU's workforce are disabled and their rate of unemployment is twice as high as that of the able bodied.   Overall, 78 million European citizens still live in poverty, 8% of people in the EU suffer from in-work poverty and the gap between rich and poor in many Member States is increasing. The report was adopted with 345 votes in favour, 14 against and 2 abstentions.
Presenting her report in Strasbourg, Liz Lynne (ALDE, West Midlands, Liberal Democrat, UK) said: "We face a huge challenge in Europe. This challenge is one of fairness. It is about lost potential, the inability to live a life free from the charity of others, a life free from discrimination, poverty and social exclusion.
Our objective is clear: we want to expand opportunities so that nobody, whatever their background or circumstance, is left behind. The vision of Europe must be freedom and opportunity for all, increasing opportunities and incentives to work, whilst strengthening the safety-net for those who are unable to work."

A decent minimum wage at Member State level

The draft report urges Commission and Council to examine "how Europe can provide a social level playing field to eradicate unfair competition in the European internal market".   It stresses that "to make work financially viable", a "decent living minimum wage" should be set at Member State level - be it by national law or in cooperation with the social partners.
MEPs complain that "in many Member States the minimum wage is set very low or at below subsistence level".     Member States should also end asylum seekers' dependence on benefits by allowing them to work, say MEPs.

Prevent exploitation of vulnerable workers

The House welcomes the Commission's draft directive on "Sanctions against employers of illegally staying third-country nationals". At the same time MEPs call on Member States to better implement existing legislation to prevent the exploitation of vulnerable workers by gangmasters.   They should also sign and ratify, if they have not yet done so, the UN Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and their Families.

Combat child poverty

Given the number of children abandoned, on the streets or in institutions, Member States should provide adequate resources for combating child poverty, says the report.   Children and their families should be supported, for example with affordable childcare and housing.
Member States are urged to ensure that their citizens are literate and have "the skills and knowledge to gain useful employment".   Pupils should be prevented from dropping out of school early.   MEPs also note that people from less wealthy backgrounds are "seriously underrepresented" in higher education.

Rehabilitation for prisoners

Extreme poverty can lead to crime, points out the report. Adequate rehabilitation for prisoners is crucial to prevent them slipping further into social exclusion and unemployment.   Lastly, the fact that for many people the only access to treatment for alcohol and drug abuse is through the prison system is regarded by MEPs as "unacceptable".

Further information:

Social reality stocktaking
Text, as adopted by the EP on 15 November, will shortly be available here