2016 Annual Growth Survey: social issues still in the second row

The European Commission has presented the Annual Growth Survey 2016, the starting point for the next European Semester. The document highlights the key priorities the Commission wants to pursue in 2016, namely strengthen the recovery and foster convergence. This should be achieved by building on the three main pillars identified already in 2015: re-launching investment, pursuing structural reforms and “responsible” fiscal policies. While employment related measures prominently in the priorities, other social issues are only marginal. Some of AGE Platform Europe’s priorities feature in the document, but many issues are still sidelined.

Social security systems mainly to support labour markets

Social security systems are mostly seen under the prism of increasing labour market access: Member States are encouraged to promote social investment in healthcare, childcare, housing and rehabilitation services and to combine “flexibility” with “security”. With the aim to fostering labour market access, the Commission emphasises investment into “human capital” to reduce the risk of poverty, foster productivity and competitiveness. Positively, the Commission emphasises the importance of adult education and life-long learning especially for the lower-skilled and long-term unemployed. The Commission considers that “adequate and well-designed income support, such as unemployment benefits and minimum income schemes, allow those out of work to invest in job search and training”. However, there is no specific mention of adequacy of minimum income beyond working age.

‘Upwards economic and social convergence’

The Commission wants to see upwards convergence among Member States and therefore advocates for the introduction of benchmarks to assess which policies at national level foster best economic and social performance. This initiative goes along the proposals from the Five Presidents[1] Report on ‘completing Europe’s economic and monetary union’, presented last summer. Benchmarks should include labour markets and public administrations, but the efficiency and adequacy of social benefit systems in fighting poverty, for example, are not mentioned.

Long-term care and health: adequate financing and universal access remain open questions

The Commission considers that long-term care and health care policies are important to provide adequate protection for all. The Commission recommends ‘responsible’ [BA1]policies to attain financial sustainability and protection at the same time. Measures to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of health care such as the provision of effective primary health care services, efficiency in the use of medicines, integration of care through information channels, health promotion and technologies are mentioned. However, the Commission fails to explain how Member States should guarantee universal access and adequate financing for both health and long-term care.

Pensions: complementary measures needed to support adequacy

The Commission reiterates its assessment from the 2015 Ageing Report that pension systems are now better equipped to face demographic change. However, the Commission recognises that additional measures are needed, such as further extending working lives, encouraging complementary pension savings including through collective and individual pension plans – to complement public pension schemes

AGE Platform: pay more attention to older people’s needs

AGE’s in-depth analysis of the 2016 AGS will be done on the basis of our members’ joint assessment of the 2015 European Semester. In AGE’s position send to President Juncker in 2015, we highlighted a number of issues that need to be better addressed to achieve the Europe 2020 targets, in particular to realise older people’s rights to independent and dignified living. The 2016 Annual Growth Survey seems reflect only a small number of AGE recommendations. Most importantly, the problem of poverty among certain groups of older people, such as women, persons with disabilities, persons in need of long-term care and their families need to be addressed. In employment matters, age discrimination is still widespread and labour markets have to adapt to accommodate older workers. Therefore, much more investment in life-long learning and training for workers of all ages is needed. Finally, the health situation is worsening, as shown by the decline of the ‘healthy life years’ indicator in recent years. This shows the importance of accessible and universal healthcare systems, starting from prevention, but also including primary, secondary and other health care.

More information:

For further information, please contact Philippe Seidel Leroy at the AGE Platform Secretariat: philippe.seidel@age-platform.eu

[1] European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, together with the President of the Euro Summit, Donald Tusk, the President of the Eurogroup, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the President of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, and the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz

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