12-05-2023 Published: Working paper on reaching the targets of the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan
Working paper Reaching the European social targets: the need for better-balanced Power Resources
Scholars of the Herman Deleeck Centre for Social Policy (CSB) of the University of Antwerp: Sümeyra Akarçeşme, Anna Lemmens and Bea Cantillon, together with Ane Aranguiz (University of Antwerp and Tilburg Law School), have published an EuSocialCit working paper on the ability of the ESPR Action Plan to reach its poverty goals.
Reaching the three targets of the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR) Action Plan — an employment rate of at least 78%, at least 60% of adults attending training courses every year and lifting 15 million people out at risk of poverty or social exclusion — is the litmus test for the success of the EPSR. To attain these goals all the principles and rights defined in the EPSR are involved. The EPSR puts forward a prima facie balance between employment, equal opportunities and social inclusion. The outset of these domains may lead one even to believe that the primary focus of the EPSR lays on the third chapter dealing with social inclusion and social protection, since this chapter alone contains half of the rights enshrined in the EPSR.
However, existing power resources and the actions undertaken since its adoption, particularly when put in the context of the already existing body of resources, put a greater emphasis on implementing some principles, such as those relating to gender equality, the work-life balance and employment. In the case of gender equality and employment, we find a complex and tiered picture composed by a variety of approaches that has over the years led to a rich pool of power resources for individuals to access. Although this framework is not absent from criticism, it depicts a rather comprehensive picture and, in some fields, such as equal treatment regarding employment conditions, provides a rather complete set of social rights from start to finish. By contrast, the power resource framework for social inclusion is less extensive and is formulated in a weaker fashion. We still find many normative instruments, but the vast majority takes a soft-law or declaratory approach, which has an impact on the potential instrumental resources and, mostly, on the enforcement resources.
This is problematic because, as past experience has shown, progress in the fields of employment and gender equality do not guarantee more social inclusion. The empirical evidence on poverty trends in the past decades points, on the contrary, to qualified successes in terms of employment and gender equality but not in terms of social inclusion: a significant employment growth and defeminization of poverty went along with a marked precarisation of low-skilled men and women. Particularly striking is the rise in the risk of poverty among jobless households linked with the weakening of the poverty-reducing capacity of social protection for these households.
It follows that without policies that duly focus on strengthening the resource framework for social inclusion and social protection, it may not be possible to meet the European social inclusion targets in the future. This implies, for instance, a Directive on Minimum Incomes, more intersectional approaches that explicitly link the social inclusion dimension of the EPSR with other domains such as employment and equal opportunity and the use of the ESF+ as a potentially important lever for social inclusion.