On the occasion of the start of the 2019 cycle, AGE has published its position on the 2018 European Semester, the EU’s coordination mechanism of socio-economic policies of member States. AGE members from Belgium, France, Malta, Spain and Italy have contributed to the report.
While the European Pillar of Social Rights has allowed a better focus on the impact of policy reforms on peoples’ lives, the European Semester still looks at ageing as a liability to member states’ budgets, instead of focusing on how the potential of demographic change can be realised by creating inclusive societies. AGE also reiterated its call for a new reflection on the social strategy after 2020, when the current Europe 2020 Strategy will run out, inspired by the Sustainable Development Goals.
Positive and negative developments on pensions and social exclusion
AGE notes that the adequacy of pensions is now taken into account in the Commission’s recommendations in member states where they are dramatically low. However, there is still no assessment focusing on vulnerable groups of pensioners – older women, the very old and people with health issues. In some member states with rising levels of poverty and social exclusion of older people, pensions are considered to be ‘adequate’. Also, the social dimension of poverty, such as isolation and loneliness are unaddressed.
As part of its work with the European Anti-Poverty Network (EAPN), AGE has published a special focus on the situation of poverty and social exclusion of older people: Poverty Watch 2018: Older persons’ poverty and social exclusion – a reality
Employment: positive developments, but a stronger focus on hiring is needed
While there are improving employment rates for older people in many member states, it is overlooked that this growth mainly comes from people not leaving their jobs, rather than from unemployed older people being hired. There is still a very high risk of long-term unemployment among older people, and little recommendations address the lack of inclusiveness of labour markets. While life-long learning is often highlighted as an issue in member states, there is a lack of recognition that older people are the group that is the least likely to participate in these policies to maintain and increase employability. A stronger focus should be put on improving the health status of workers, and on fighting age discrimination in employment.
Health: better analysis of access to health
While in the past, the Semester was often used to introduce higher out-of pocket payments, there has been a positive shift by analysing the number of people with unmet health needs. The healthy life years indicator is now used in some member states to recommend improving access to health and promote preventive health policies. This focus should be reinforced in the next Semester cycle.
Long-term care: seen as acost, not as an opportunity for participation
Long-term care systems are by and large only analysed in terms of budgetary risks. Only in some member states, the lack of availability of long-term care is addressed, and only in the perspective of preventing informal carers to be out of? employment. Meanwhile, there are increasing needs for quality and person-centred care services, requiring investment and initiatives to improve quality. Long-term care services should be seen as a way to keep people with health problems active and independent in society, valuing their continued participation, rather than only as a cost to be contained.
Housing and age-friendly environments
While there is a large analysis of housing markets, there is little reference to the shifts and adaptations in these markets that are required due to demographic change: more accessible, inclusive and intergenerational habitats are needed as society is ageing. Also, environments have to adapt to become more inclusive for people of all ages, which has been shown to increase active participation and health. Finally, more focus should be put on public mobility.
Digitalisation: lack of focus on skills, accessibility and infrastructure
As society becomes more digital, the accessibility of the digital and physical environment are equally important;yet, no recommendation focusses on this structural issue. Additionally, digital skills should be improved, as it is sometimes is highlighted in recommendations. However, many older people are left out of measures to improve their digital skills, because they are no longer of what is considered ‘working age’. This creates additional barriers to participation.
AGE will continue to follow the European Semester throughout the 2019 cycle and address its recommendations to the European Commission and EU member States.