Empowered by the new Articles 136 and 137 in the Amsterdam Treaty, the Member States of the European Union have made a common commitment to fight against social exclusion and poverty. 60 million people in the EU today are poor or at risk of poverty - which is defined as those living below a threshold of 60 percent of median national income. The figure varies considerably across Member States, from 8 percent in Denmark to 23 percent in Portugal and 22 percent in Greece, Ireland and the UK. Children and young people, the elderly, the unemployed and lone parent families have a particularly high risk of poverty. The EU has set a target of eradicating poverty in Member States by 2010.
The Member States and the European Commission have identified a series of severe risk factors that increase the likelihood of being trapped in poverty, these being: long-term unemployment; living long-term on low-income, low quality employment; poor qualifications and leaving school early; growing up in a family vulnerable to social exclusion; disability; poor health; drug abuse and alcoholism; living in an area of multiple disadvantage; homelessness and precarious housing; immigration, ethnic background and risk of racial discrimination.
What has this to do with the "Information Society"?
Societal changes could lead to new risks of poverty and social exclusion for particularly vulnerable groups unless appropriate policy responses are developed. These changes include changes in the labour market due to globalisation and the very rapid growth of the knowledge-based society and information and communication technologies.
There are huge gaps in access to technology by many socially excluded groups, so much so that "digital exclusion" is now a real barrier for people's lives, restricting their educational and vocational opportunities.
To guard against further possible social exclusion related to both globalisation and the spread of Information Technologies in all areas of life, European governments have agreed to target a number of goals, including the following:
- developing an inclusive labour market and promoting employment as a right and opportunity for all;
- guaranteeing equal access to and investing in high-quality public services (health, transport, social, care, cultural, recreational and legal);
- improving the delivery of services.
And what about people with disabilities?
The European Social Inclusion Report (2001) highlights the facts that disabled people are more likely to be in poverty, more likely to be unemployed (and long-term unemployed) and less likely to have medium- and higher educational qualifications.
A range of means must be developed to address these problems. These include offering disabled people better training and qualifications, thus making them more employable. Other measures are needed to target the work environment itself, eliminating the various barriers which prohibit or reduce employment possibilities for disabled people. These include: raising employers' awareness of their obligations not to discriminate against disabled employees or job applicants; adapting workplaces (physical access, facilities designed "for all" and appropriate Information Technology tools), so that disabled workers are not denied the right to work; and creating flexible work arrangements so that disabled people can achieve their best while at work.
Viewpoints on Social Inclusion and Disability
Web pages of the European Disability Forum, focusing on employment issues and disability: http://www.edf-feph.org/en/policy/empl/empl_news.htm
European Disability Forum's response paper on the EU 2001 Employment Guidelines can be found at the following link: http://www.edf-feph.org/en/policy/empl/empl_pub.htm
Articles 136 and 137 of the Amsterdam Treaty, which came into force in 1999, provide that the fight against social exclusion should be one of the EU's social policy goals. The Lisbon summit of 2000 agreed to make a clear impact with regard to the eradication of poverty by 2010. It also agreed that co-operation in this field should be based on the 'open method of co-ordination' (common objectives, national action plans, a joint Commission/Council report). The Gothenburg summit this year also encouraged candidate countries to make use of Member States' experience as presented in this joint report.
Social inclusion report:
For more information, contact the European Commission, Mr. Andrew Fielding, Telephone +32.2.2959660 or +32 498.959660.
Social Inclusion news article in English: http://www.europa.eu.int/comm/employment_social/news/2001/oct/i01_1395_en.html
also available in PDF format in Danish: http://www.europa.eu.int/comm/employment_social/news/2001/oct/i01_1395_da.html
International Labour Organisation: Managing Disability in the Work Place
On the International Day of Disabled Persons, the International Labour Organization announced the launch of its Code of Practice on Managing Disability in the Workplace, adopted by the ILO Governing Body at its recent meeting (Nov 1-16) in Geneva.
The Code, providing guidance to enterprises on how to recruit people with disabilities and maintain employment for workers who become disabled, is the first of its kind and can be applied by all employers, in both industrialized and developing countries. The Code addresses:
- recruitment of disabled persons
- promotion and advancement of workers with disabilities
- retention of people who acquire a disability
- return to work of people who have left employment due to disability.
The Code of Practice draws on the experience in disability management of countries throughout the world, gathered through research. The code, which was adopted by a Tripartite Meeting of Experts in Geneva, October 2001, complements the existing ILO guidelines regarding the training and employment of people with disabilities: ILO Convention No. 159 and Recommendation No. 168 concerning Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (Disabled Persons) of 1983; and Recommendation No. 99 concerning Vocational Rehabilitation of the Disabled (1955).
The International Labour Organisation Web site: