Guest Editor: Paul Miller, Communications Assistant FEANTSA, Clotilde Clark-Foulquier, Policy Coordinator, FEANTSA
The European Social Fund is one of the primary tools at the EU’s disposal for funding projects to contribute to the development of the employment market and the state of human capital across the Union. The Fund focuses on improving the Union’s worker base through vocational training, as well as easing access to employability through up-skilling programmes. One of its aims is to reintroduce the long-term unemployed back into the workforce, as well as to give those in declining sectors new skills to make them competitive once more in a rapidly changing job market.
Falling under the jurisdiction of the Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs, and Inclusion, the Social Fund’s long-term aims are said to be “part of Europe’s strategy to remodel its economy, creating not just jobs, but an inclusive society.”
The previous six-year programme began in 2007, right before the 2008 Economic Crisis, and was, relatively speaking, a moderate success. The Commission stated that, “The financial crisis has led to a redoubling of efforts to keep people in work, or help them return to work quickly if they lose their jobs.”
So, did the Commission redouble their efforts for 2014? Well in terms of number of individuals engaged, it appears not. In this sense, the 2014-2020 scheme is floundering compared to its predecessor in 2007-2013, with participation in the third year of the programme dropping at a staggering 59.1% compared to the previous period. Unfortunately, it seems the most recent ESF programmes have been struggling to reach enough beneficiaries.
The European Commission goes on to state that “Another priority focuses on helping people from disadvantaged groups to get jobs. This is part of enhancing ‘social inclusion’ – a sign of the important role that employment plays in helping people integrate better into society and everyday life”
However, the report figures show that, among the disadvantaged groups the Fund apparently aims to engage, the homeless and those affected by housing exclusion make up a marginal fraction of those receiving aid. In 20 EU Member States people categorised as homeless make up less than 1% of those who benefitted, with Portugal, Romania, Cyprus, and Malta including no homeless people whatsoever. It is evidently clear that Europe’s most vulnerable cannot hope to benefit from the scheme unless the Member States and Commission make a genuine effort to target and include the homeless population.
This is especially worrying when the EU Commission’s Department of Social Affairs quote long-term employment as one of the greatest preventative measures for poverty and social exclusion, two dangers that are innate in the homeless’ day to day lives.
When the exclusionary effects of long-term unemployment are compounded with the widespread detriments to a person’s well-being, both physically and mentally, experienced while suffering from homelessness, the results can be catastrophic, potentially condemning them to a lifetime of social and economic exclusion.
If the quotes above are indeed the EU Commission’s motivation for pursuing these programmes then surely it is imperative to target those whose situation inherently puts them at risk of suffering the very social issues they wish to target?
With the European Economic and Social Committee now recommending that “funding should be earmarked for the most deprived […] and should be substantially increased to support social inclusion measures going far beyond the provision of food and material subsistence,” it is clear that now is the time for the EU to commit fully to a comprehensive strategy to reintegrating and including the growing homeless population into European society.
If the EU is to approach the homelessness crisis in any meaningful way in its 2030 agenda, efforts to include the increasing homeless population in the next two ESF programmes will be integral. The Be Fair, Europe Campaign advocates for long-term investment in homelessness to really combat the significant human, societal and economic costs of those left behind by current EU Investment, whether it be the European Social Fund, European Structural and Investment Funds, or the European Fund for Strategic Investment. In order to achieve this, the structures already in place need to work specifically target beneficiaries that can extend aid to homeless participants. It has been done before, now let’s make sure it continues until homelessness is eradicated.
Be Fair, Europe! Stand Up for Homeless People.