February 26, 2013
Last week, the European Commission has published a long waited package of targeted tools called Social Investment Package (SIP) . According to the rhetoric: “Social investment means enhancing people’s capacities and supporting their participation in society and the labour market. “ But will it turn into real action? Is this the appropriate tool to fight poverty?
(source of the photo © The Guide “Living in dignity in the XXIst Century: Poverty and Inequalities, paradoxes in Societies of Rights and Democracy?” )
To truly understand the magnitude of the problem, why did we need such huge political commitment from the Social Commissioner, we have to understand that poverty is violation of human rights. As Jean Jacques Rousseau once said “L’homme est né libre, et partout il est dans les fers.” Poverty hinder individuals to live in dignity, to develop their own capacities, to live a happy life and – in the middle of the financial crisis – to pay taxes.
Poverty means legal, economic and democratic exclusion from society.
Legal poverty – Although both the international law (UN Declaration of Human Rights, European Convention of Human Rights, European Social Charter) and the European law (Charter of Fundamental Rights) recognise the right to have a full life without poverty, in spite of all the available case law, this approach still remains fragmented. The right to a minimum wealth as an indeniable condition of human dignity is not recognised as a human right, as such. The national Consitutions consider the eradication of poverty as a political programme and not as binding human right. Thus, we are afraid that there is no clear, enforceable legal obligation which would oblige decision makers.
Economic poverty – Furthermore, poverty is an economic category in the sense that it is a result of unemployment, lack of revenues. As a basic economic basis, no output is possible without inputs. If one cannot earn how could we expect him to come out of poverty by buying elementary needs as food or clothes? Unemployment people sinking in poverty cannot contribute to the society level production, they cannot pay taxes. Unfortunately, they are not considered as inclusive members of our society. They are in fact dependent on social measures which suffers mainly the cuts implied by austerity measures. As long as there is no agreement among member states that a minimum revenue which would allow people to survive is a must, poor people will rely on the society’s help.
Democratic poverty – Our political decisions are based on democratic participation, on votes. Governments and politicians hardly care about anything else but the votes half a year before the elections. In these periods and on the day of the vote the dependence turns round for a momentum: politicians will depend on ordinary people for one day. And they are aware of it: they do their best to collect as many votes as possible. And once again: those who do not vote can hardly expect anything from them. And people living in poverty is very unlikely to be interested in politics if they survival is put into question. Can Europe afford the marginalisation of such a huge part of the society: the poor? How can they expect anything from politicians if poverty hinder them to make their voice to be heard?
Who makes the real political decisions in the social sector?
I can give the example of my policy field: Health Ministers are often criticised that they are not the real decision makers concerning the major directions of national health policies in the sense that the budget and the economic framework mainly determine the financial possibilities of any kind of health policy and those are set by either the financial minister or by the prime minister herself/himself. Thus, they who want changes in the health sector shall convince the later mentioned decision makers. Does the same apply to the social ministers? Are they master of their own budget?
Now, it is up to the social sector to convince the national decision makers about the urgent need of investing in people. The European Commission put on the table at least a promise that it was able to offer financial support from the European Social Fund to Member States if they would be ready to re-consider their earlier crisis-management strategy.
The challenge is enormous: some member states shall accept that they rigidly focused on the economic sector, they concentrated on the macronumbers by austerity measures and in the meantime they forgotten the most vulnerable: the poor, the true victims of the crisis.
What should be done?
There is a need for a refreshed mindset: we have to re-discover the human face of the crisis:
– We have to invest money in people and not into faceless financial institutions;
– we must pull out families from poverty instead of recapitalizing the bank sector;
– we shall reduce the debt of poor households instead of reducing the huge amount of state debt by 0,000000001%.
Then, only then will turn the promising rhetoric into action.
I remain at your disposal.
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Related earlier updates:Zoltán Massay-Kosubek