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Living together in 21st-century Europe: follow-up to the report of the Group of Eminent Persons of the Council of Europe

Opinion | Doc. 12653 | 21 June 2011

Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee
Rapporteur :
Ms Virág KAUFER, Hungary, SOC
Reference to committee: Reference 3752 of 11 March 2011. Reporting committee: Political Affairs Committee. See Doc. 12631. Opinion approved by the committee on 21 June 2011. 2011 - Third part-session

A Conclusions of the committee

The Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee welcomes this opportunity to express its opinion on the report of the Group of Eminent Persons. In the view of the committee, and as stressed in the most recent Parliamentary Assembly Resolution 1800 (2011) and Recommendation 1963 (2011) on combating poverty and in the accompanying explanatory memorandum, poverty and social exclusion have reached a level in Europe which creates social instability, making them a major political issue which urgently needs addressing. The committee would also like to emphasise the role that political leaders should play, and their responsibilities, with a view to identifying solutions to the negative social trends in Europe that the Eminent Persons' report has highlighted.

The committee fully supports the draft recommendation proposed by the Political Affairs Committee, and in particular paragraph 16.6. To strengthen the draft recommendation, the committee proposes two amendments regarding social cohesion and access to social rights as essential conditions for living together in society.

B Proposed amendments to the draft recommendation

Amendment A (to the draft recommendation)

In the draft recommendation, after paragraph 16, insert the following paragraphs:

“17. The Assembly recommends that the Committee of Ministers, in implementing the recommendations of the Group of Eminent Persons, take specific measures to ensure the protection of those who are particularly vulnerable or at risk of exclusion and marginalisation, enabling them to live in dignity. In this connection, the Assembly stresses that everyone is entitled to respect of their social rights that cannot be denied. The Council of Europe, in its Committee of Ministers Recommendation No. R (2000) 3 on the right to the satisfaction of basic material needs of persons in situations of extreme hardship, stressed that this right should contain, as a minimum, the right to food, clothing, shelter and basic medical care. The recommendation underlines that the exercise of this right should be open to all citizens and foreigners, whatever the latter’s position under national rules on the status of foreigners.
18. The Assembly calls on member states to guarantee access for all to the rights enshrined in the revised European Social Charter, priority being given to the right to health, to housing and to work, notably for migrant and minority communities such as Roma, thereby creating favourable conditions for living together based on inclusion and non-discrimination.”

C Explanatory memorandum by Ms Kaufer, rapporteur for opinion

1. People from ethnic minorities, migrant communities, or people experiencing severe poverty encounter serious difficulties in their daily lives, struggling to get access to basic human rights, such as food and shelter, not to mention advanced political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights.
2. Everyone, including irregular migrants, is entitled to a minimum set of social rights that cannot be denied, as stressed in the Committee of Ministers Recommendation No. R (2000) 3 on the right to the satisfaction of basic material needs of persons in situations of extreme hardship.Note This right should contain as a minimum the right to food, clothing, shelter and basic medical care.
3. Council of Europe member states can and should act to ensure that the concept of “living together in 21st-century Europe” also takes account of access to social and economic rights. Constant deprivation and discrimination in access to employment, health care and education are preventing people from minority and migrant communities, and those experiencing extreme poverty, from being fully part of our society.
4. Concerted action at European level is required to ensure that people who experience extreme poverty and hardship are given a chance to recover and to become part of society; that the Roma populationNote and other minority communities enjoy full access to social rights; and that the irregular migrantsNote who reach Europe but cannot be returned for whatever reason, are given a chance to integrate and to find their way towards a better future. I would, therefore, call on our member states to take measures offering opportunities that would enable everyone to live together in dignity.
5. Taking into consideration Assembly Recommendation 1196 (1992) “Severe poverty and social exclusion: towards guaranteed minimum levels of resources” and Recommendation 1963 (2011) on combating poverty, member states should take urgent action to support people who experience extreme poverty and hardship by:
.1 identifying the priority groups in need of support and initiating consultation at local level through an individualised approach (in co-operation with civil society organisations), because persons with severe difficulties are often unable to contact social services;
.2 assisting people in economic hardship to learn some elementary social skills and gain work experience prior to the provision of advanced vocational training;
.3 developing social rehabilitation measures to prevent homelessness, and by ensuring access to emergency shelter/housing for those experiencing extreme poverty.
6. As regards the social rights of the Roma population, and in accordance with “The Strasbourg Declaration on Roma”Note and Assembly Resolution 1740 (2010) on the situation of Roma in Europe and relevant activities of the Council of Europe, member states should strive to:
.1 take steps to increase the effectiveness of measures aimed at improving access to social services, including health care, for Roma and Traveller communities; starting by reviewing all relevant policies in the field of social services, assessing the impact of existing policies and programmes on Roma and Travellers and making the necessary amendments to improve their effectiveness;
.2 guarantee access to information on social assistance systems and on procedures for accessing social benefits, combating the “social worker bias” and discrimination in access to such benefits for the Roma and Traveller communities;
.3 implement special measures to recruit Roma and Travellers into the social services sector, to enable them to act as mediators within the social services framework;
.4 provide anti-discrimination and anti-racism training and cross-cultural communication activities on a regular basis to all members of the public services, including elected representatives and government members, as well as for social services workers.
7. As regards the social rights of irregular migrants, and in accordance with Assembly Resolution 1509 (2006) on the human rights of irregular migrants:Note
.1 Given the importance of the right to adequate housing for the enjoyment of other civil, political, economic and social rights, housing provision should not be denied to irregular migrants on the grounds of their unauthorised status. While states might be justified in denying long-term housing provision to those irregular migrants who can be removed from the country or to rejected asylum seekers who have lost their right to appeal, such migrants must nevertheless be afforded a minimum level of housing assistance commensurate with conditions of human dignity.
.2 No person (nationals or migrants regardless of legal status) should be denied access to a minimum level of social protection, which is usually defined in terms of basic or emergency medical treatment and the provision of social assistance to enable the person concerned to live in dignity.
.3 States should strive to provide holistic health care to irregular migrants, including preventive treatment, in conformity with the broad understanding of the right to health in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
.4 Irregular migrants who are in employment and making contributions to the social insurance system should be entitled to receive appropriate benefits from those contributions.
.5 States should consider the possibility of regularising irregular migrants, and in particular those who are in stable employment, with a view to not only securing their rights, but also to discouraging employers and labour intermediaries from gaining unfairly from their irregular labour, and in the overall context of combating the underground economy.
.6 The children of irregular migrants must not be denied access to education in Council of Europe member states, either in law or administrative practice.Note
8. Council of Europe member states should strive to improve access to social rights in general and, in particular, take measures to:
  • strengthen entitlement to social rights and improve their provision;
  • strengthen monitoring and enforcement of social rights;
  • ensure a sufficiency of resources and capacities on the part of providers and users of social services;
  • improve access to social services through better management and procedures;
  • maximise the flow, use and exchange of information;
  • eliminate psychological and socio-cultural obstacles on the part of both service providers and users;
  • eliminate vulnerability as an obstacle to social rights (for this, the knowledge of the right, the awareness of the entitlement and the capacity to make an application for and to claim the right, are essential).Note