Monday, 8 December 2008
Ecosocialism for the 21st century
A socialist response to climate change and the financial crisis
Speaker: Sean Thompson (Green Left)
Venue: Indian YMCA, 41 Fitzroy Square, W1 (Warren Street tube)
Public borrowing, public spending and tax cuts to inject money into the economy so that people will spend, spend, spend. And of course most of what is bought is either useless, thrown away or environmentally harmful.
It is possible to have a society in which everyone's needs are met and which does not follow Gordon Brown's route of production, profit making and environmental degradation. Sean Thompson will explain how it is possible for working people not to pay the price for the capitalist crisis and to have an ecologically sustainable future.
Sunday, 7 December 2008
greenwich mural workshop presents an exhibition of artworks 1975 to 2008
macbean centre macbean street woolwich
15 DECEMBER 6 -9pm
come by overground to woolwich arsenal - 5 mins walk
come by tube from north greenwich by 272 or 161
come by any number of buses to woolwich to the stop by the station
come by vehicle via the A206 to macbean street - then into centre car park
tel: 020 8854 9266
now! mon15th to sat 20th december
1 to 6 pm
See Pdf flyer at gmwexhibition3
URGENT - PRESS RELEASE
MAJOR PUBLIC ART EXHIBITION
1 December 2008
After 20 years, Greenwich Mural Workshop is closing down its Woolwich premises in December.
In one last splendid retrospective, an exhibition of its artistic production including posters, banners, mosaics, carnivals, playgrounds, parks and gardens can be seen at its Woolwich studio in the MacBean Centre, Macbean Street, from Monday 15th December to Saturday 20th December, 1 to 6pm each day. The exhibition is free and all are welcome.
The artist’s co-operative, which started in 1975, has worked with community groups all over Greenwich Borough, making murals to brighten estates, posters for events, banners for unions and action groups, playgrounds, gardens and parks for schools and tenants associations.
Carol Kenna and Steve Lobb founded the workshop, but during its 34 year history, dozens of other artists came to design and fabricate pictures, prints, constructions, and environments with them. Many fabulous artists, designers and craftsmen who worked with GMW, have gone on to establish great organisations of their own. But it was not only professional artists, countless apprentices were trained, residents of all ages learnt art skills, many going on to begin new careers. National Community Arts and Murals conferences were also organised by the group, and a national touring exhibition “Printng is Easy” – showed posters from community printshops from all over Britain.
GMW’s first project was designing and painting murals with people of Meridian Estate in Greenwich. Three landmark murals were created; “Peoples River” and the anti-nuclear “Wind of Peace” on Creek Road and “Towards the Good Planet” on Thames Street, opened by Oscar winning actress, Glenda Jackson. A courtyard scheme and a park - converted from a junkyard - was devised with the tenants and carried out by Greater London and Greenwich Councils.
More mural projects followed: Floyd road and Rathmore Youth Centre murals in Charlton; Anti Racist and Kingsman Green murals in Woolwich; Glyndon Estate murals in Plumstead; and Yarnton Way, Binsey and Limestone Walks’ murals in Thamesmead. Many began to be made in tile, and in mosaic; a visually stunning and hard-wearing medium. These materials were used in skills courses for young unemployed and in dozens of Greenwich primary schools, some of which, James Wolfe, Timbercroft, Boxgrove and Cardwell schools, will be on show at the exhibition.
The community printshop began in a flat rented from the GLC on the Meridian Estate. Graphic artists Lulu Ditzel and Rob Finn joined and ran the printshop, which grew quickly, advancing in techniques and skills in new premises at The Albany. When GMW moved to The Macbean Centre, Rob and Lulu left to set up on their own. Rick Walker took over the printshop and with new photographic facilities and satirical flair, brought a different, distinctive style to poster-making in the borough. With Carmen Diaz, Bernadette O’Donoghue, Lyn Medcalf and Howie Jeavons, the printshop produced hundreds of posters calling for social and political action and advertising events and meetings and entertainments. These posters are now highly valued and will soon become part of the national collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Banners made for local community action, protest marches and tenants groups concerned a wide variety of issues and campaigns; anti-poll tax, anti-racist and domestic violence being amongst the most prominent. Also important were banners promoting women’s rights, welfare rights and solidarity with the miners. Banners both traditional and new in style were made also for several major trades unions.
GMW artists were greatly committed to the environment and devised “Vision for Woolwich” and “Where Land Meets Water”, grand scale conferences at the University and the Town Hall leading to specific development and planning proposals for the town. Gardens and playgrounds were designed and realised for several local primary schools, and two run down, neglected parks - Twinkle Park and Charlotte Turner Gardens in West Greenwich, brilliantly resurrected by GMW working with local people.
Recently the Workshop, with David Ireland Landscape Architects, has prepared designs for Plumstead Gardens and St Nicholas Churchyard and Gardens in Plumstead, for which first stage work is due to commence next year.
For more information and pictures
CONTACT: CAROL KENNA OR STEVE LOBB ON 0208 854 9266
Tuesday, 2 December 2008
I know that people from outside London will be coming so it might be a chance to say hello until next year. Best to meet downstairs in back bar for disability access. Will be carrying/wearing green paraphernalia.
Joseph Healy Treasurer
Peter Murry Secretary
On Saturday 6th December, many thousands of Londoners will be joining millions around the world to voice their concerns about climate change.
Climate change is a global problem with local consequences, some of which we are already witnessing, such as increased flooding, storms and droughts, leading to higher insurance costs, problems with food production and water scarcity.
This December, critical decisions will be made on the future of climate change policy. UN negotiations are now underway in Poznan to agree international plans to follow Kyoto and crucial votes will take place in the European Parliament on a new climate package.
The global day of action is an opportunity for all citizens to demand leadership from their Governments and elected politicians to achieve the best outcomes.
We need rapid action on climate change and I encourage everyone to take part in the climate march in London, which is likely to be the biggest event in Europe. The action will begin at Grosvenor Square at 12pm, with several high profile, inspirational speakers. For more info go to www.campaigncc.org
London's Green Party MEP
Sunday, 30 November 2008
A – The Green Paper (‘No one written off: reforming welfare to reward responsibility – hereinafter referred to as ‘the Green Paper’) adopts a ‘workfarist’ approach that makes benefit conditions tougher. An ‘incentives’ approach would make it easier for the very poor to work and contribute to the economy. The Green Party believes that this could be provided by a ‘Citizens’ Income’ or ‘basic income’ for all adults, analogous to child benefit, combining unwaged benefits and tax credits to provide a minimum income guarantee for all regardless of employment status.
B – The Green Paper’s approach has been overtaken by events. Supply side economics cannot work where there is a collapse of the demand for labour.
C – A lasting increase in the employment rate requires an improvement of skills and/or an increase in demand for labour, possibly achieved by reducing working hours overall.
D – The Green Party is opposed to the use of private for-profit companies which will be brought in to deliver work capability testing as well as to deliver workfare and training programmes.
E – Hardship will be suffered by people with health problems who are moved from IB to JSA, if they cannot cope with the complex and exacting requirements of the JSA regime.
F – Many disabled people will lose money by moving onto JSA, when they are already deprived of an adequate living standard.
G – The ‘work for benefit’ proposal is punitive in nature and does not help participants to get work
The Green Party has for many years advocated a Citizens Income “payable to every citizen as a basic right,” a benefit which would combine the functions of out-of-work benefits and tax credits, given unconditionally to everyone without means testing (Green Party ‘Policy and Manifesto for a Sustainable Society’). This would abolish the dilemma faced by many people on JSA or Incapacity Benefit – that if they take a low paid job, they would hardly be better off after counting the loss of benefits that follows moving into work. The basic income approach is the antithesis of workfare and of a strict benefit sanctions regime. The Green Party sees the solution to unemployment as one of removing disincentives to work, rather than bullying people into work. The more money the state spends on tax credits to subsidise an abusive low wage economy plus the expense of back-to-work programmes and administration of complex means tests and benefit eligibility assessments, the stronger becomes the argument that a universal basic income is an affordable alternative.
By contrast to the current government shift towards workfare, this summer (July 2008) the Green Party launched a report with the New Economics Foundation entitled the Green New Deal (http://www.neweconomics.org/gen/z_sys_publicationdetail.aspx?pid=258). This report uses the term ‘New Deal’ in reference to Roosevelt’s original programme of the 1930s. The Green New Deal calls for a large-scale job creation programme oriented towards activities to combat climate change, such as renewable power generation, home insulation etc. In the current economic crisis which has since developed, a major intervention of this kind would be far more relevant to the growing unemployment trend than the proposals of the Green Paper. (The ecological aspects of our Green New Deal proposals have since been seized upon by the Government in its press releases. However we want implementing home insulation, etc. to be a vehicle for creating real jobs at reasonable pay. We object to ‘ green’ work – or any work however socially useful - being used as an area of workfare activity with workers receiving merely benefits).
We consider that the 29 questions posed in the consultation
l focus mainly on administrative detail
l assume that the reader in large part agrees with the government
l regard the claimant's 'welfare dependency' as something to be addressed by processing them rather than addressing their individual requirements.
We prefer to structure our response around a more searching and profound opposition to the basic arguments of the Green Paper.
A – The Green Paper adopts a ‘workfarist’ approach that makes benefit conditions tougher. An ‘incentives’ approach would make it easier for the very poor to work and contribute to the economy.
Very considerable sums of public money are being spent on benefit administration, including means testing and monitoring of eligibility or conformity with Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA) regulations, as well as on payments to private providers of New Deal services. The question must be posed whether these funds could not more usefully be spent on expanding the number of jobs in socially important sectors where jobseekers could work – such as home insulation, installation of solar power equipment, child care, elder care, youth and community services and so on.
Moreover, there is no response to the problem that benefit rules are very hostile to jobseekers who can only manage part-time work because of their disabilities or family commitments. (Parents of disabled children are particularly oppressed, especially when the Government does not adequately fund integration of disabled children into mainstream education. Overlarge class sizes and a league-tabled school funding system lead to burgeoning exclusions.)
Under plans to move many claimants from incapacity benefit to JSA, the harshness and disincentive effect of these rules will become increasingly serious in its impact. The 'allowable earnings entitlement' for JSA claimants has remained at £5 since 1988, a sum which is now less than the national minimum wage for a single hour’s work. Further, now that the national minimum wage has increased to £5.73 per hour, Incapacity Benefit claimants on 'Permitted Work Placements' – with an allowable earnings entitlement of £20 per week -- have had their hours cut to 3½ per week, hardly sufficient to provide a platform for a transition into meaningful employment. The UK’s benefits system is particularly hostile to those who can only obtain part-time work or find very short-term jobs, since the rules are designed to prevent almost any earnings whilst claiming. By contrast in France, Germany and Belgium there are much higher ‘disregarded’ income limits so that a claimant can take a part-time job alongside benefit, or work for a short time without relinquishing their benefit claim. Under that type of system, the incentive structure is much better than in the UK system for someone with high housing costs and a fear of losing housing benefit/mortgage support, or someone whose work opportunity does not have sufficient weekly hours to make them eligible for working tax credits.
The administrative ‘hassle’ faced by those who enter employment only to find that they must claim JSA again some weeks later constitutes a significant disincentive to taking any job which is likely to be short term, or which may not ‘work out’ for people who, because of disability or health issues, are uncertain of what tasks or weekly schedule they can manage. The poor quality of service in processing claims, on which we say more later, provides an additional argument for moving closer to a French/German system.
For many years the basic income proposal has remained on the radical margin of welfare benefits debates. However, the House of Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee, in its seventh report of July 2007 (see http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200607/cmselect/cmworpen/463/46302.htm ) advocated a Single Working Age Benefit (SWAB) The SWAB would provide an income for anyone who was legitimately resident in the UK and is both willing and able to work (or was exempted from the latter criterion because of illness, disability or caring responsibilities The SWAB would continue as an in-work benefit, and would be reclaimed through the tax system at a Government-agreed Marginal Deduction Rate (MDR) as wages rose until it was exhausted (the MDR taking into account current rates of income tax and national insurance contributions). The SWAB would therefore replace tax credits and all benefits withdrawal rates. It would avoid the need for people moving in and out of employment to notify changes. People already in work would be able to claim the SWAB. The system would abolish means-testing at the point of application for a benefit. Additions for carers and people with disabilities would be paid, and a SWAB claim would automatically trigger Housing and Council Tax Benefits.
The SWAB proposal is very similar to a Basic Income although unlike a ‘pure’ Basic Income proposal it would retain seeking-employment and incapacity tests (and delivery of welfare to work programmes by ‘contractors’ which as stated elsewhere, we do not endorse). Being formed from a combination of out-of-work and in-work benefits the SWAB proposal would eliminate all the administrative costs associated with people’s movement between JSA/Employment Support Allowance and tax credits. Almost by definition, it could provide no greater disincentive to work for present claimants of JSA or tax credits than their present benefit levels However, it would provide a much greater incentive to work for those currently caught in ‘benefit traps’ associated with the uncertainty and difficulty of moving from out-of-work benefits to in-work benefits. Much of the ‘informal economy’ would be legalised and people with no work would have a clear incentive to take some even if they could only find a little, with obvious benefits to them and to the economy. Whilst Basic Income proposals are often criticised for being expensive, the SWAB proposal is clearly based on combining existing benefits and tax credits without increasing their respective budgets, and offers considerable capacity for administrative cost savings as well. It is most surprising that the Green Paper makes no reference to this recent and most interesting proposal by a Parliamentary Committee.
B – The Green Paper’s approach has been overtaken by events. Supply side economics cannot work where there is a collapse of the demand for labour.
To toughen the benefits regime at a time when unemployment is rising rapidly because of the financial crisis will be seen by many citizens as a form of collective punishment of the unemployed. If the government can afford such huge sums to support the failing banking system, the question must be posed why it cannot adopt a similarly ‘Keynesian’ approach to the lack of work for jobseekers. Green Party Leader Caroline Lucas, MEP, has joined with the New Economics Foundation and others to promote the concept of a ‘Green New Deal’ which would use a major investment of public funds to create jobs in activities to combat climate change.
C – A lasting increase in the employment rate requires an improvement of skills and/or an increase in demand for labour, possibly achieved by reducing working hours overall.
Where integration into work is achieved by pressure and threat of sanctions, it is likely to be fragile and ‘recidivism’ will be common.
Under the Green Paper’s proposals, sanctions under JSA will be made tougher, with automatic benefit sanctions for people failing to attend a mandatory interview without good cause and a possible requirement for drug users to join treatment programmes as a condition of claiming benefit. Whilst sanctions and frequent interviews have a deterrent effect against remaining on benefits, there is a risk that the tougher the regime, the more people will take a job which they cannot sustain (either because they need more training, or because the vacancy itself is of very low quality. We are also concerned that such interviews may not be DDA compliant in terms of, say, claimants’ access requirements under DDA and privacy needs). A Joseph Rowntree Foundation study, 'Insecure at Work' (http://www.poverty.org.uk/33/index.shtml?2) points out that half of the men and a third of the women making a new claim for JSA were last claiming the benefit less than six months ago. These figures are not a feature of a particular stage of the trade cycle; they have remained fairly constant for at least ten years.
Those individuals who will stay in work tend to do so either because they change, or the labour market changes. Opportunities for a real increase in jobseekers’ skills and capacities could be achieved by ‘job rotation’ schemes of the kind developed by the Danish government in the mid 1990s, where existing employees take study leave or family leave, and the resulting vacancy is filled by an unemployed person with the help of state subsidy and training support. By reducing average annual working hours, schemes of this kind can spread a given volume of labour demand amongst more would-be employees.
We are also concerned that the JobCentre Plus model of paid work together with the tax credit system is geared toward a person being clearly ‘in work’ (and not dependent on JSA/ESA) or ‘out of work’. Such tiny amounts of disregarded work income, and the substantial administrative hurdles which face someone who signs off benefit to take a very short term job and then signs on again, are inimical to developing a gradually increasing portfolio of ‘bits and pieces’ of paid work, often available through first volunteering and then moving into a wage or self-employment for a few hours a week over a period of time. This pattern is sometimes the most promising route for very-long-term claimants who want to volunteer, in particular for some personality types (Tieger & Barron-Tieger, 2007). French and German benefit systems, which allow much larger ‘disregards’ and a substantial period of grace before benefit is withdrawn after someone moves into work, are more friendly to those who can best manage a gradual and cautious re-socialisation into work. The Green Party’s basic income proposal would also facilitate such a path. A 2006 report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation entitled ‘People in low-paid informal work: “Need not greed”’ see http://www.jrf.org.uk/bookshop/ebooks/9781861348937.pdf finds that many if not most people who work whilst claiming benefit do so because of sheer poverty, because of the administrative delays in getting benefit reinstated if they ‘sign off’ for a short time, and/or because of the unreasonably low disregarded earnings levels, combined with the poverty trap that comes from the need to give up all JSA or IB entitlements if these earnings limits are exceeded.
D – The Green Party is opposed to the use of private for-profit companies which will be brought in to deliver work capability testing as well as to deliver workfare and training programmes.
We need to keep these programmes on a not-for-profit basis; no company should make profits out of bullying people into unsuitable or exploitative jobs to get a ‘job placement’ payment. There are many examples already available of privatised New Deal and training contractors doing this and manipulating their payment by results rules to maximise income. Whatever system is devised of outcome-related payments, it is liable to be used in a distortive way to maximise profit rather than customer service. Recent pamphlets by the Social Market Foundation and the Policy Exchange have pointed to the dangers in this respect. (see Peter Lilley, and Oliver Hartwich, editors (2008) Paying for Success, (London: Policy Exchange), and available on http://www.policyexchange.org.uk/images/libimages/371.pdf; and Ian Mulheirn and Verena Menne (2008), Flexible New Deal: Making it Work, Social Market Foundation, London available on http://www.smf.co.uk/assets/files/publications/SMF_Flexible_New_Deal.pdf )
Gary Vaux (2008) draws attention to insecurity of job provision for existing DWP staff on account of the privatisation of welfare related to Employment & Support Allowance in a Community Care magazine print edition article entitled ‘Private Gain, Public Cost’ :-
“[In] advance of the introduction of Employment & Support Allowance from this October ... Australian multinational group Ingeus through a subsidiary company, WorkDirections UK, won six out of 15 contracts worth more than £85m, to become one of the biggest providers of Pathways to Work. WorkDirections attitude to safeguarding the employment and pension rights of transferred DWP staff are somewhat unclear, although other bidders for the contract (mostly from the charity or voluntary sector) factored in those costs.
William Smith, chief executive of Ingeus Europe, described the charities who had lost out as "whingers". "Frankly it's their own fault," he said. "They should have bloody read the questions and answers documents."
This rather aggressive approach from the predominantly private sector companies that won the Pathways to Work contracts has concerned many voluntary sector organisations, who believed that they would be in a good position to win the contracts to deliver Pathways to Work. To permit a private company to win contracts on a financial basis which penalises existing JobCentre staff, whilst competitors who were generous enough to cover this lost out, makes a mockery of the Green Paper’s reference to a ‘right to bid’. If there is a right to bid for private companies, it must be on a fair and comparable basis. with non-profit providers
The Green Party is also very concerned about the strong role of one or two private companies in advising the government about the development of welfare to work proposals, particularly in relation to the restructuring of incapacity-related benefits. (see Jonathan Rutherford, http://www.lwbooks.co.uk/journals/soundings/debates/36rutherford.html ) It seems extraordinary that so much attention has been given to the views of a company which is on record as saying that it sees the UK benefits system as one of its major markets for the future; one would expect advice to have been taken from a wider and more balanced range of sources. As Rutherford’s paper shows, the credibility of Unum — formerly Unum Provident - has been badly damaged by having been prosecuted for fraudulent business in the USA.
The use of private contractors also raises issues about choice and the lack of ‘customer’ bargaining power, since the ‘customers’ will be directed to providers and will be prevented by JSA rules from refusing any service however inadequate. According to the Green Paper, the model for how claimants will be assigned to contractors will be on a Jobcentre franchise basis, rather than claimants being seen as customers with choices and being able to determine which provider will be best for them. This will make for complacency among the contracted companies, and will encourage a lack of signposting information for people allotted to their schemes. For example, a company will have no incentive to refer jobseekers to training provision available through FE colleges or the voluntary sector, even where this would be appropriate for them. The Green Paper's favouring of contractors over customers creates a financial incentive for the company to move the jobseeker into a job using its own resources, even if a more stable reintegration into the labour market and at higher pay could be achieved after a few weeks’ or months’ training.
Current standards of training provision must be considered in the light of the gradual reduction in length and depth of training provision for the unemployed over the last 20 years. Whilst in the 1980s, training courses lasting 6-12 months were common, and the notion of 12 months’ training for the under 25s remained in the initial form of the New Deal for Young People, the trend has been towards much shorter courses particularly for older adults. Courses imparting real transferable skills have been severely cut back, whilst much of the surviving training is at a low level and more oriented to job search than to skills improvement.
FE and HE teaching professionals are regulated by the Institute for Learning, schools are regulated by Ofsted, and prisons are monitored by the Prisons Inspectorate. We must pose the question, what regulating or monitoring body does the government have in mind for the providers of Flexible New Deal services and work capacity test providers ?
Quantitative approaches to job applications may be easier to monitor, but are a very superficial means of determining jobseekers’ desire to find paid work. Quantitative monitoring of jobsearch output seems to reflect a notion of job applications are a punitive or deterrent exercise rather than a constructive form of self-marketing. Such monitoring does not constitute supervision or help to improve application quality or the demoralising effect of repeated rejections, and earlier Employment Service research on jobclubs suggested that the quantitative approach has a ‘nuisance value’ for employers because it wastes their time with many low quality applications. Anecdotal information from Green Party sources also suggests that private providers are failing to supply customers with information about training choices. This makes an unhappy contrast with the era of Training & Enterprise Councils, which produced tabulated information of Work Based Learning for Adults courses, to which the good providers added their own advertising flyers.
The dangers of quantitative targets for job applications
Anecdotal evidence supplied to the Green Party indicates that in one large-scale New Deal provider, ‘Client Advisors’ model their ‘soft skills: motivation’ tuition delivery on Government-funded mandatory New Deal upon the board room in the television show, ‘The Apprentice: You’re Fired’ with Sir Alan Sugar. The value of such training delivery when participants are vulnerable adults is questionable. The same Client Advisors also say, “The more jobs you apply for, the better your chances. Ten job applications per [5 hour attendance] day is good.” Such an approach diminishes quality of job-matching and also of research and communication. We have also heard that the access requirements with regard to workspace for people with autism has not been recognised by this provider’s centres.
Private providers of ‘back-to-work’ services appear keen to protect the ‘intellectual property’ which resides in their training and advisory materials. This results in some absurdities, for example it has come to the Green Party’s attention that one provider actually tells its New Deal 'beneficiaries' that they are not allowed to take induction materials off the provider’s premises. Moreover there is no incentive for private providers, paid by results, to provide customers with materials which would help to improve the quality of the job they obtain or their knowledge of their rights, for example on the minimum wage, working time regulations, trade union law or – most crucially – on the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. It might also be helpful to provide some mentoring of ex-unemployed people during their first few weeks a job, to help them settle and keep it. However, there must be a fear that if this service was delivered by a private company only concerned to obtain ‘outcome payments’ for those who kept their job, this might result in bullying not to leave an exploitative or unsuitable employer.
It is moreover absolutely crucial that contractors should be required to provide trainees with information about their rights during training, and that their compliance with this requirement is adequately monitored. A referral form used by one London provider makes no references to the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and 'beneficiary' access requirements.
E – Hardship will be suffered by people with health problems who are moved from IB to JSA, if they cannot cope with the complex and exacting requirements of the JSA regime.
In particular this affects people with mental health issues, people with unpredictable work capacity or mobility that comes and goes as their condition varies, people with complex medical issues that may not be fully understood by frontline workers in JobCentre Plus or its privatised substitutes. Such people will be particularly vulnerable to benefit sanctions with disastrous results.
On September 15th 2008, the DWP held a Consultation Forum in London. (see http://www.dwp.gov.uk/healthandwork/esa.asp ). During a seminar on the subject of "the next steps for the Work Capability Assessment" (WCA), several participants from a range of disability groups raised concerns about the DWP's record in recognising all disabilities and the rigour of assessment procedures they have formulated in the past, and they further raised concerns about the thoroughness of the new WCA in properly recognising these conditions and the Healthcare professionals who will carry out the WCA on behalf of the DWP. Amongst the disability awareness professionals who raised these concerns were representatives of the following: RSI Action - a national charity for the prevention of RSI conditions, the National Autistic Society, and a group representative of people suffering from ME who raised the issue that those who suffer from ME have a fluctuating condition which can change on a daily basis (a similar trend within those who suffer from Hypoglycaemia). The latter representative also drew attention to whether incomplete awareness of this condition may lead to a lack of sensitivity in the WFHRA process within the WCA (the WFHRA stands for the work-focused health-related assessment).
It is a source of great concern that the proposals to move many claimants from incapacity benefits to JSA will result in a huge administrative overload for JobCentre Plus (JCP) in terms of having to apply complex JSA procedures to a much larger number of people, when the system is already clearly stretched to breaking point and will be stretched further by the current sharp rise in redundancies. Since the announcement in 2005 that DWP had to lose 30,000 staff over three years, on top of other spending cuts in the department, concern has been growing in the social care and welfare rights fields about the deteriorating standards of service provided by JCP. There has been concern about the effect on vulnerable customers, particularly care leavers, those with sensory impairments and people with mental health needs who have greatest difficulty with the JCP’s highly standardised approach to customer service. This is particularly true of new claims, which are generally dealt with by telephone using standardised call-centre scripts (see Neil Bateman, Community Care, 16 November 2006, http://www.communitycare.co.uk/Articles/2006/11/16/102240/jobcentre-plus-poor-service-continues.html. ). Citizens’ Advice Bureaux and council social services departments have noted a large increase in caseload due to late payment of benefits, errors in claims, and difficulty in accessing the telephone service, particularly for claimants who are deaf or suffer mental health problems. Delays in processing claims appear to be extensive and may be leading to an underestimate of the actual number of people unemployed, in particular those rejoining the claimant count after losing a short-term job.
The Green Paper lays considerable emphasis on identifying and punishing benefit fraud. The administrative cost of this effort is likely to be considerable, and it is curious that no assessment is made of the returns on such ‘investment’ in terms of money saved, relative to other uses of administrative labour or taxpayers’ funds – such as, for example, efforts to combat tax evasion. Whilst combating fraud may appeal to some citizens’ sense of justice, techniques such as Voice Risk Analysis will surely risk considerable injustice for some, for example those with autistic traits or for whom English is not their mother tongue. (See http://www.communitycare.co.uk/Articles/2008/05/22/108275/voice-risk-analysis-makes-claiming-benefits-more-stressful.html.) The ‘fraud’ that consists of exceeding the earnings disregard limit by small amounts or for short periods may be best dealt with by redefining the disregard rules to make this legal. We have already argued, under point C, that the disregard limits should be raised substantially and a ‘period of grace’ allowed before benefit is withdrawn completely, to avoid a situation where people are afraid to give up benefits for a short term job in case there is delay in reinstating their allowance when it ends.
The government’s concern with benefit fraud stands in curious contrast to its apparent lack of concern about the record of Unum, whose history in the USA has been noted earlier.
D – Many disabled people will lose money by moving onto JSA, when they are already deprived of an adequate living standard.
The UK’s benefit levels are already low by west European standards. Disabled claimants moving onto JSA will face a loss of income, increased costs of seeking work (fares, clothing etc.) and a lower level of ‘earning disregard’, compared to their situation on Incapacity Benefit. This is likely to cause hardship and debt. There are already many disabled JSA claimants who are disabled and through decades of volunteering while claiming have improved their employability and yet have never been rewarded for doing so.
Some jobseekers have built up their employability by using self-management within self-directed study and supportive voluntary placements. Yet at times of increasing recession, the impact of even a minor disability becomes more debilitating in a highly competitive jobs market. This makes it more important than ever for the benefit system to provide such people with scope for combining a fluctuating portfolio of voluntary and paid work, supported by benefits as necessary.
E – The ‘work for benefit’ proposal is punitive in nature and does not help participants to get work
Workfare drives down wages, because of its deterrent effect; people compete more strongly for available vacancies rather than risk doing it. The resulting fall in wage levels for entry-grade jobs constitutes a form of collective punishment for all those who do them, and reduces work incentives for the shorter-term unemployed because they see a smaller gap between their benefit and their potential wage.
If workfare placements are meaningful experience in jobs that would normally be done for a wage, these placements are likely to displace actual jobs. For example the New York municipal parks department in the 1990s replaced most of its workforce with workfare participants. On the other hand, if the activities involved in workfare placements are far removed from the nature of the real labour market, they are unlikely to be beneficial as work experience.
It would be far better to use workfare funds to create real jobs at normal wages for whatever kind of work is envisaged, through wage subsidies to local authorities, hospitals, educational institutions, or voluntary organisations. The ‘Green New Deal’ paper provides a basis for a plan of this kind which foregrounds the government’s new targets for combating climate change.
The Green Paper proposes that working on a special scheme, for benefits not a wage, will be mandatory for anyone who has been claiming JSA for at least 2 years. This would mean claimants working a full 35-hour week to earn a £60.50 Job Seekers Allowance payment. This equates to £1.70 an hour, less than a third of the minimum wage. Page 44 of the Green Paper, where it outlines this proposal, quotes a report which cites a scheme in Australia where there was a 7% net increase of participants going into jobs compared with non-participants. However, this is quite different to the complete picture provided in the actual report which mentions the Australian experience (DWP Research Report No 533, 2008, ‘A comparative review of workfare programmes in the United States, Canada and Australia’, undertaken for the DWP by the Centre for Regional Economic & Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University by Dr Richard Crisp and Del Roy Fletcher, available at http://www.dwp.gov.uk/asd/asd5/rports2007-2008/rrep533.pdf ). Crisp and Fletcher go on to say that the Australian workfare scheme was ineffective in helping participants find sustainable employment, and that the scheme had little impact on the very long term unemployed which in fact grew by 68%!
Other findings of the Crisp and Fletcher report seem to indicate that a work for benefit requirement would not be helpful. For example they say:-
‘There is little evidence that workfare increases the likelihood of finding work. It can even reduce employment chances by limiting the time available for job search and by failing to provide the skills and experience valued by Employers…. Subsidised (‘transitional’) job schemes that pay a wage can be more effective in raising employment levels than ‘work for benefit’ programmes.’
They also point out that:-
‘Welfare recipients with multiple barriers often find it difficult to meet obligations to take part in unpaid work. This can lead to sanctions and, in the most extreme cases, the complete withdrawal of benefits that leaves some individuals with no work and no income.’
Thus, ‘some states in the US have scaled down large-scale, universal workfare programmes in preference for ‘softer’ and more flexible models that offer greater support to those with the most barriers to work. This includes a greater reliance on subsidised jobs that pay wages rather than benefits to participants.’
A large body of literature on workfare in the USA points to the dangers of serious injustice and hardship for workfare participants who are sanctioned for breaking the rules on compulsory participation (Gray, 2004). Parents at risk of benefit sanctions may leave their children without adequate day care rather than fail to attend their programme, leading to neglect and even injury or death when everyday childcare arrangements break down because, for example, the carer or the child is sick. Drug addicts or people with mental health problems may lose all their income because they are simply unable to cope. Errors and misunderstandings may occur about a person’s fitness for work; for example a workfare participant died of a heart attack on one American scheme in 1997 whilst doing manual work which she probably knew was dangerous for her, but she could not refuse it (Gray, 2004: 165).
How the Green Paper's proposals on lone parents would cause hardship for disabled children
Ms X, a Green Party member in Warwickshire, is a single parent with two adolescent daughters — one with autism. They now live on a boat for financial reasons and British Waterways demand that they move on and indeed keep moving; no permanent residential mooring is available anywhere near the girls' schools. Ms X’s older daughter Y (aged 15) needs extra parental caring and like all people with autism spectrum disorder, she needs continuity and sameness, in particular a stable housing situation. Currently British Waterways have ordered them to move and do not want the family to keep their present mooring while they await rehousing by the council. But at the only alternative mooring, Y would have to wait alone on a busy main road for school transport whilst Ms X takes her younger daughter (13) to school, a 25 minute drive in a rural area with little public transport, whilst at their present mooring there is at least a car park to wait in.
Y was also excluded from classes at her previous (mainstream) school, placing further pressure on her mother. But Y has only twice received temporary overnight fostering, once when she ran away, once so that Ms X could attend to the family’s housing crisis. External care, which requires a suitably skilled person to look after Y on a one to one basis, would be needed if Ms X was obliged to join a workfare programme, and the coordination of care with placement attendance by Ms X might be very complicated to arrange. She should surely not be placed at risk of losing benefits for lack of suitable arrangements for her daughter, when the making of such arrangements is in the hands of others.
A full-time work-for-benefit obligation as proposed in the Green Paper would simply add to the pressures faced by this family without giving them extra income or improving their long-term prospects, which crucially depend on adequate care services and a stable housing situation.
On the other hand a basic income allowance as proposed by the Green Party would provide a breathing space for sufficient parental care whilst guaranteeing the family's subsistence.
Ms X approached our Disability Spokesperson saying that she wanted to speak out about this on behalf of herself and others. She has set up a self-help group for others in a similar situation, yet had no real support from her MP. "Parents of children with disabilities - especially autism - are so bogged down with just trying to live that very often we cannot find the time to get our voices heard," she concludes.
At the root of Y’s exclusion from her previous school seemed to be the lack of autism training for the Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator, and the low level of training of the teaching assistants. Thus Y and her mother are also the indirect victims of under-funding of the educational service and high turnover of teaching assistants. Significantly, this is a job often seen as suitable for lone parents. Increased workfare pressures might draw into teaching assistant work people who need more support than the system gives them, or who would not stay in the job very long. It would make things worse rather than better for schools as well as for the jobseekers themselves, who could be pushed into work too soon or in the wrong way
The proposals of the Green Paper are particularly harsh in relation to lone parents. The government’s prior decision to require them to become available for work when the only or youngest child reaches the age of seven is already problematic for some families. The Green Paper fails to acknowledge that parents of disabled children may not be so free to enter the 'workforce' when the child reaches the age of 7 as the parents of non-disabled children. The problem does not end with physical disabilities – children who are slow learners, or suffer from autism or Asperger’s syndrome, all require additional time and energy from their parents and possibly frequent meetings with professionals which may be incompatible with many jobs. These issues extend to families with children who are showing challenging or disruptive behaviour at school, or are in trouble with the criminal justice system, The type of entry-grade jobs which frequently fall to the lot of the ex-unemployed – with inflexible shifts and few favours or privileges given by the employer – are not conducive to meeting parental obligations in complex circumstances. The possibility of a reduced, adapted or delayed work requirement for these parents seems totally absent from the Green Paper’s approach of deterrent and punitive workfare arrangements for all who have been claiming JSA for over two years.
Despite the title of the Green Paper, nowhere is there any mention of reward for claimants/jobseekers. The purpose of the work-for-benefit placements is clearly punitive and deterrent.
The workfare placements prescribed — as with the New Deal programmes that became mandatory on 1 June 2007 — treat claimants as merely input for schemes laid out by others and give no recognition of existing volunteering. It is likely that claimants who are already making an active contribution to society in a way they have chosen, in many cases with a view to remaining ‘in the waiting room’ for a job with a voluntary organisation if and when it obtains funding to pay them, will be required to abandon their voluntary work to attend a workfare placement. Depending on the contractual arrangements with placement providers, there could even be a perverse financial incentive for the provider to force someone to abandon voluntary work in favour of a standard workfare placement.
DWP (2008) Welfare Reform Green Paper 'No one written off: Reforming Welfare to Reward Responsibility http://www.dwp.gov.uk/welfarereform/noonewrittenoff/noonewrittenoff-complete.pdf [accessed 19/10/2008]
DWP Research Report No 533, 2008, A comparative review of workfare programmes in the United States, Canada and Australia, undertaken for the DWP by the Centre for Regional Economic & Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University by Dr Richard Crisp and Del Roy Fletcher, available at http://www.dwp.gov.uk/asd/asd5/rports2007-2008/rrep533.pdf
Gray, A. (2004) Unsocial Europe; Social Protection or Flexploitation ? (London: Pluto Press)
Green New Deal Group (Andrew Simms, Ann Pettifor, Caroline Lucas, Charles Secrett, Colin Hines, Jeremy Leggett, Larry Elliott, Richard Murphy and Tony Juniper), A Green New Deal: Joined-up policies to solve the triple crunch of the credit crisis, climate change and high oil prices, New Economics Foundation 2008
Green Party Policy and Manifesto for a Sustainable Society http://policy.greenparty.org.uk/
Green Party Spring Conference (2008) Emergency Motion 119
Hocking, J. (2006) ‘Why people work informally while claiming benefits: special report’ http://www.communitycare.co.uk/Articles/2006/06/23/54685/why-people-work-informally-while-claiming-benefits-special.html
Indymedia (2008) ‘Welfare Reforms — Govt found to have misquoted research figures’ http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2008/10/410164.html
Katungi, Dennis, Neal, Emma and Barbour, Aaron (2006) People in low-paid informal work: “Need not greed”, Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
Lilley, Peter and Hartwich, Oliver, editors (2008) Paying for Success, (London: Policy Exchange) available on http://www.policyexchange.org.uk/images/libimages/371.pdf,
Mulheirn, I.; and Menne, V. (2008) Flexible New Deal: Making it Work,, (London: Social Market Foundation) available on http://www.smf.co.uk/assets/files/publications/SMF_Flexible_New_Deal.pdf
Peck, J. (2001) Workfare States (Guildford Press)
Rutherford, J. (2007) New Labour, the market state, and the end of welfare, Soundings
Tieger, P.; Barron-Tieger, B. (2007) Do What You Are: Discover the Perfect Career for You Through the Secrets of Personality Type, Fourth Edn (Boston: Little, Brown & Co.)
Vaux, G. (2008) ‘Private Gain, Public Cost’ in Community Care magazine, 13 March 2008. (See http://www.communitycare.co.uk/Articles/2008/03/12/107551/pathways-to-work-to-help-those-unfit-for-work.html)
'Working Lunch', BBC2 TV, broadcast 27/09/2000 contained a special feature inspired by viewers’ feedback regarding Labour annual conference announcement that there would be ‘Green Card’ immigration status for people with special skills coming to Britain. (This included an interview with Alan Wheatley — now Green Party of England & Wales Acting National Disability Spokesperson — and others on how Labour was letting down graduates of UK-government-funded training programmes for jobseekers.)
Wednesday, 26 November 2008
According to several reliable sources, he has been taken from his cell 121 in ward 209 of Tehran’s Evin prison in preparation for execution. Jail security officers are said to have told him he is about to be executed and they are making fun of him, calling him a martyr.
The Revolutionary Court issued the death sentence against Kamangar on 25 February 2008. His lawyer has said: "Nothing in Kamangar’s judicial files and records demonstrates any links to the charges brought against him." Kamangar was cleared of all charges during the investigation process. The last time Kamangar was seen, he was at the health clinic of Evin prison and his physical condition was poor. Witnesses testify that he has been beaten again. Kamangar has not been allowed to see his lawyer or family members for the past two months.
EI has been appealing to the Iranian authorities to commute Kamangar's death sentence and ensure his case is reviewed fairly.
Now, EI is once again appealing to Iranian judicial authorities to halt the execution. EI is also asking members of the international community urgently to intervene.
The FOLLOWING MESSAGE WAS SENT ON BEHALF OF GPTU
Dear President Ahmadinejad,
Having learned today that teacher trade unionist Farzad Kamangar faces hanging in the next few hours, I call upon you to immediately commute his death sentence and have his case re-examined through a fair trial.
Sincerely,Peter Murry, Secretary Green Party Trade Union Group (Green Party of England and Wales)
Friday, 14 November 2008
Green Worker - November 2008
- MEPs Demand Recognition for Green Union Reps.
- Green Success Makes Southwark A Living Wage Employer
Next GPTU Meeting:Wednesday 26th November 6.30pm
1st Floor National TheatreSouthbank, London SE1
Tuesday, 11 November 2008
It takes place from 6pm – 8pm on Wednesday 10th December at Congress House. Speakers include Professor Keith Ewing from IER and Hannah Reed, Senior Employment Rights Officer at the TUC. Other speakers from the UK and Europe to be confirmed.
If you have not already done so, please can you register for this event at firstname.lastname@example.org or call Matt Dykes on 020 7467 1386.
Please circulate this among your colleagues and networks.
SERTUC International Committee
Friday, 7 November 2008
The motion commits the Council to paying all staff, including sub-contracted staff, the London Living Wage and to use local strategic partnerships and other private sector engagements to promote the living wage more widely. Proposed by Green Councillor and London Assembly Member, Jenny Jones, the motion passed with support from Labour, despite hostility from Lib Dem Councillors.
Southwark is only the second Borough to adopt official policy backing a Living Wage, with Lewisham being the other where there are 6 Green Party Councillors.
The Living Wage is the real minimum rate of pay that enables a worker to provide a decent standard of living for themselves and their family. In London, the Living Wage currently stands at £7.45 per hour. The background to this figure can be found in the document, A Fairer London: The Living Wage in London
Jenny Jones stated, "The Green Party has supported the London Living Wage from the outset and will continue to fight for all organisations to ensure that their staff are not receiving poverty pay."
7PM 19th November Public Rally @ The RED LION, Hatfield
(200 yds from Hatfield BR)
Brian Caton (GS, POA) -Billy Hayes (GS, CWU) Pete Keenlyside (NEC, CWU) -Mark Serwotka (GS, PCS)
PUBLIC SERVICES NOT PRIVATE PROFIT
With the world's economy in crisis, workers everywhere will be asking why we should
have to pay for someone else's mess. The government has been quick to bail out bankers
and traders but have ignored the call for similar investment in health and public services for decades.
Public services and public service workers are facing unprecedented pressure from
privatisation and job cuts. Across virtually every area of public service the Government is forcing services into the private sector. Hundreds of thousands of jobs are at stake. The pay, pensions and conditions of employment of public service workers are under threat.
Services which our communities rely upon are ar risk. Our campaign is committed to building momentum throughout the country and organising at a local grassroots level by bringing together trade unions from across the public sector, as people are fighting back in defence of our services.
For further information call 020 7219 1626 (national campaign)
PCS workers seek your support PCS workers support you!
Following the successful rally held on 1st May 2007 striking PCS workers are again asking for solidarity from Trade Unionists in Beds and Herts.
LTUC welcome all Trade Unionists and supporters to the meeting. PCS will be on strike on the day to protest against their employers disgraceful pay deal but they also face job cuts at a time when the country badly needs to invest in the public sector.
In fact government workers do a wide range of essential jobs from issuing passports to keeping the highways safe. They ask only to be reasonably paid and staffed to do the job.
The LTUC helps to bring workers together to fight against poverty wages, bad working practices and joblessness
Now is the time, with the threat of short time working at GM, with; Unison Health workers needing to re-open their 3 year deal for a safety net against inflation, and local government workers still seeking a fair deal, Teachers balloting on pay and Unite members in NACRO launching a petition against a 2.1% pay deal. Now is the time for Trade Unionists to get together and show their strength.
CWU Picket 2007
Please attend this meeting. If you would like to send a speaker to either support the PCS or to speak about your own workplace please contact Geoff Webb at email@example.com
Thursday, 6 November 2008
GPTU Treasurer and Southwark Green Party
[mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org] On Behalf Of Tom Chance
Sent: 06 November 2008 09:18
Cc: Announcements and limited discussion for London Green Party
Subject: [London] Southwark passes Living Wage motion
Our Living Wage motion/ was passed by Southwark Council last night.
This is a huge step! It commits the council to paying all staff, inc.
subcontracted, the London Living Wage and to use local strategic partnerships and other private sector engagements to promote the living wage more widely.
Next steps - making sure it is implemented well, campaigning to get
private employers to follow suit.
I'd urge all London parties to consider a similar motion, to follow
Southwark and Lewisham.
See more details on my blog:
Southwark Green Party
By James Caspell
Earlier this year, local government workers in UNISON voted for sustained industrial action in support of their claim to "catch up and match up" their salaries with the level of inflation over the last two years, and reject yet another pay cut being imposed by a Labour Government.
Despite this, after just two days of strike action, UNISON’s national bureaucracy decided to suspend all further threats of industrial action, without consultation, before even entering formal negotiations with the employer, therefore undermining the only tactic we had strong enough to win our demands – the collective withdrawal of our labour power.
Since then negotiations have ensued behind closed doors with little obvious progress. Inflation has continually risen, reaching 5.2% last month using the Governments own measure, whilst Labour continues to expect local government workers to accept a 2.75 % pay cut in real terms.
The logical step for UNISON would have been be to actually demand more than the original 6% claim, and continue to seek inflation proofing for the two year period, backed up with hard-hitting and sustained industrial action as demanded by the membership, yet instead we have seen total capitulation from our national leadership – and not for the first time.
The national bureaucracy cited low turnout as a reason for suspending the campaign for industrial action and it is true that the union was not as solid as it could have been had the workforce been more confident.
Yet many grassroots activists report that the reason for widespread apathy within trade unions is that members know that whatever they "threaten" with regards to collective action, it will be compromised by weak "leadership" and selling out at the earliest possible opportunity. Such compromises are subsequently sold to the membership as a “victory” when they are nothing of the sort.
It is indeed a vicious circle in terms of rebuilding strong fighting unions, but one which can only be broken by rebuilding the trade union movement from the bottom up.
The real solution is to wrestle power and focus away from the unelected bureaucrats and put it back in the hands of rank-and-file workers. The only way of doing that is to organise and empower workers at a shop level upwards, encompassing the "bread and butter" issues which affect them; fighting local injustice and broadening the scope out to wider issues on the back of real successes, rather than empty promises.
Unions need to spell a vision not simply of "nationalising" organisations and bringing them into “public ownership”, but exemplifying what workers-control and co-operation looks like. This requires not only widespread local activism, but political education and encouraging the energy and enthusiasm of workers to participate, instead of pacifying them and seeking to win demands without workers taking part. It is the task of socialists to organise, educate and agitate the working class, not get elected and try and change the system from within devoid of tangible real mass activism.
Why are we calling for hollow demands of "nationalisation" and "public ownership" without any explanation of what that would entail in a way that would benefit the working class? As a result of the credit crunch, the ideology of capitalism has taken a blow which needs to be exploited by painting a picture of what a socialist alternative looks like. The fact that evictions have increased since the “nationalisation” of Northern Rock exemplifies how vacuous it is to repeat the same tired transitional demands at a point when even the three bourgeois parties accept he need for state intervention in the banking sector.
Similarly "planning" should not be centralised by default, but by exception. The only way plans based on socialism and co-operation will be receptive to the needs of people and their communities is if they are the driving force behind them and have control over them collectively, not a centralised bureaucracy, whether it be under a capitalist or "workers" government. The same applies to trade unions.
However, there are as many political and legislative obstacles within our unions, especially at branch level, as there are imposed by central government. Last year UNISON’s bureaucracy launched a disciplinary investigation into five union officers for printing and publishing a leaflet attacking the leadership for blocking the union conference's right to debate issues such as the funding of the Labour Party, the election of fulltime officials and control over strike action. A third of all motions were ruled out of order last year and nearly half of all motions have been ruled out for this year's conference, seemingly for political reasons. Who needs bosses with union bureaucrats like these?
There is a need to reclaim the union, but this cannot be done through regional and national elections alone. UNISON United Left are perhaps admirable in seeking to achieve electoral gains from above, but any effort to win the union at the top will remain vacuous whilst the membership remains almost entirely disengaged at a grassroots level.
Institutionally, the bureaucracy is a cancer of the workers movement rife with material and political privilege for those at the top, and must eventually be swept aside. Through the process of building a rank-and-file union movement is the need to encourage, even demand, that members take ownership over the decision making process and participate in the running of their union in their shops and branches.
There is a lot of room for manoeuvre in the strength of collective action to initiate socialist ideas within the trade union movement, but it requires a fundamental change of approach. Activists need to rid themselves of the default mindset of "what can we do for our members" to encouraging and facilitating workers to take action for themselves and demonstrate what can be achieved through collective action. Representation and workers participation and control are not mutually exclusive, but the former is entirely meaningless, from a socialist perspective, without the latter.
Ultimately for trade unions to be at the forefront of a socialist transformation of society, it will be necessary to break the law. However, in the interim, activists can work to energise workers at a local level and demonstrate that collective action can achieve outcomes from which everyone benefits. For trade unions to pose a socialist, revolutionary alternative, it is essential for activists to organise, educate and agitate alongside and amongst workers, not in place of them.
Monday, 20 October 2008
I would be grateful for you would comment on the content and approach, and would also be grateful for advice on whether it should be redrafted as an amendment to MfSS, and if so, how.
NB GL needs to decide whether to adopt this at its meeting on 29/10/2008
The authors of the New Green Deal report have recognised what most other 'experts' have signally failed to;
that the current crisis is not just imediate and financial, it is the first of three interlocked and global crises that we face. The report is right to say that the current crisis undermines the credibility of the whole neoliberal project and right to point out the need for good old-fashioned direct government spending and job creation, putting new demand into the economy through investing in infrastructure and public services.
The report correctly argues that we should be shifting the focus of the economy away from the financial sector and back to the real economy, where real people produce real goods and services that actually contribute to our collective well being.
The report contains a more far sighted and radical package of proposals than any currently on the desk of any finance minister or central banker in the 1st World. However, its narrow – if entirely understandable – focus on the immediate need for economic stability and rapid reductions in carbon emissions is based on
two weaknesses in its analysis.
First, it fails to recognise that the financial system is both structurally unstable and impossibly unpredictable; cyclical instability is an inherent characteristic of the capitalist dynamic, the product of its inherent need for continual expansion.
Second, the report hardly seems to notice the increasing inequality that neoliberalism
has manufactured in our society, and which lies at the heart of the most intractable social problems we face. So it makes only a passing reference to the increasing hardships that the most vulnerable in society are likely to suffer as the 'triple crunch' rolls out, rather than putting measures that advance equality at the
centre of its proposals.
What is needed is a programme of infrastructural renewal even more ambitious than that envisioned by the report's authors. Such a programme will require determined government and popular action to end the domination of the market and to use society's resources, including the banks, building societies and most importantly, the pension funds, for the common good. It will require a programme of industrial restructuring of wartime proportions and a detirmined social programme to counter deprivation and inequality.
Therefore, the Green Party will campaign for an emergency programme of economic and social reconstruction, based on the proposals of the New Green Deal document, but broadened and reinforced by the following measures:
In addition to the massive publicly funded programme of energy conservation and reshaping of the energy generation and supply industry advocated by the Green New Deal, it will be necessary to begin the regeneration and radical restructuring of our public transport system, since transport accounts for 24% of our carbon footprint. And it is impossible to develop a sensible energy conservation programme for our
homes and workplaces, particularly the report's 'every building a power station' policy, without dealing with the inextricably linked needs for a renewed and sustainable water supply system and a massive programme of social housing to respond to the aspirations of the five million families currently on housing waiting lists.
There is already a consensus that we cannot trust the market to deliver or maintain a national railway service and that therefore the railways should be returned to public ownership. It is just as self evident that we cannot trust the power companies to develop a sustainable and equitable energy service, nor the water companies to deliver water and remove waste in a socially and environmentally sustainable way.
Therefore, one of the preconditions of the sort of vast infrastructural reconstruction needed is the taking into public ownership, not only the railways, but all public transport services and the power and water utilities.
The long decline of manufacturing industry has led to a situation where we no longer have the capacity to produce basic equipment at the scale needed for the programme outlined above; the micro CHP generators, the large wind and wave power generation plant, the locomotives and rolling stock, nor the environmentally sound insulation products and sustainable building materials we will need for our energy conservation and home building programmes. Therefore, it will be necessary to undertake a programme of public investment in the conversion of existing engineering and construction materials firms to more socially useful production, an increase in their productive capacity and a big expansion in appropriate technology R&D.
Although hundreds of thousands of jobs would be created by such a programme, the major changes in industrial strategy that are required – for example, contraction of the motor vehicle, armaments and aerospace industries and the run-down and replacement of much of the existing electricity generation capacity - would lead to a need to tranfer and retrain workers moving from declining to rapidly expanding sectors. To gain public support, including crucially the support of the unions and the workers effected, such changes will have to be accompanied by an absolute guarantee of jobs and retraining with no loss of pay or security and
a guarantee of rehousing rights where necessary.
There is absolutely no point in the state taking all or part of the equity – and toxic debt – of the banks simply to ride this crisis out and then to return to business as usual. We have to find more equitable and publicly accountable ways to create a stable supply of credit without recourse to the anarchic and irrational
monster that private finance has become. So we need to develop and strengthen alternative vehicles, including the banks now in effective public ownership, credit unions, building societies and other mutuals and not for profit institutions.
The idea of using government bonds as a funding vehicle for the project is a sound one, and the report is quite right to look to the pension funds as a long term source of funding. However, as the Green New Deal itself says 'Pension funds are not charities.' They exist to maximise the returns on their investments, and in
reality, they have tended to be steered more by what is good for the fund managers' bonuses than anything else. Their financial muscle is too great to allow their investment policies to be detirmined solely by the requirement to maximise returns – the wider social good must also be a criterion. Therefore, the government should take powers to direct pension funds to invest a certain minimum percentage of their
funds into government bonds each year.
The Green vision : an inclusive and cohesive society
European Greens stand for a Europe which guarantees all citizens the possibility to emancipate themselves, to establish their own lives in diversity and to participate in society. Citizens must enjoy equal opportunities and equal rights and benefit from an active social policy and a robust social protection. In our perspective, these objectives are as important as the ecological and economic objectives. The Greens reject a neo liberal globalization which increases insecurity and the competition of all against all. Solidarity and responsibility must be the cornerstones of an inclusive and cohesive society.
It is the responsibility of society to create conditions for citizens to realize their talents and ambitions, to choose their lives and to participate. It has to take care of social justice and social inclusion for all. That means for example universal access to health care, to education, to housing, to good work, to social services etc…. We need a strong welfare system to protect citizens against social risks. Society has to ensure that no one is being discriminated on grounds of gender, ethnic or social origin, age, religion or belief, sexual orientation, disability. Also, if social policy aims at enabling people, then it must choose for individual approaches, avoiding the “one size fits all” trap. If society is to live up to all its responsibilities, it has to devote substantial financial and human means to social policy. For us Greens, this is an investment in people, not just a burden on the government’s budget. A socially sustainable society is at the very heart of the responsibilities of government. It has to define the rules and enforce them; it has to organize the funding of social policy and to guarantee equal access. We Greens stand against privatizing social security systems.
A socially sustainable society is also a corporate responsibility. Enterprises, institutions and organized civil society play an important role in creating a socially sustainable society, as these organizations are the co-creators of important parts of people’s lives – especially their working lives. We want them to offer decent jobs, to allow for a sustainable work/life balance, for the possibility of life-long learning … Furthermore, they must be a key financial contributor to the funding of social policies.
For us Greens, an inclusive and cohesive society is not a one-way street from the state to the citizens. We believe we all have responsibilities for our own lives, towards one another and to society. We want every citizen to participate in a multi-active society, where paid work is one way of participating, but certainly not the only one. Taking care of relatives, voluntary work, involving oneself into community initiatives… are all forms of participation are essential to a sustainable society and therefore must be recognized by society. Citizens taking responsibility is a necessary part of creating a socially sustainable society. This is why it is essential to motivate and enable them to do so.
A number of long-standing objectives of our social policy, like bridging the gender gap or putting an end to poverty… remain to be achieved. On top of that, new challenges have emerged, including the increasing rate of job turnover, the growing number of precarious workers, the advent of globalization, the migrations, the aging of our societies. This is why we need an ambitious transformation of our social policies and of their funding, one that puts solidarity at their heart.
For us Greens, building a social Europe means a strong social policy at all levels of government – local, regional, national and at the level of the European Union. A social Union means that social inclusion becomes one of the main objectives of the EU policies.
Instead of rigid uniform solutions we support a welfare model that gives people equal opportunities and enables people to choose to live their lives in different ways.
Why We Cannot Stay on the Current Course
The challenge European societies are facing are enormous. Europe looks richer than ever however poverty and social exclusion are rising. In the last 20 years, economic distribution has become more unequal in almost all European countries : the relative share of wages in the GDP has gone down vs. that of the capital, while inequalities in income have sharply gone up. At the same time, rigid zero-budget deficit policies and tax competition have reduced the room for maneuver for compensating and redistributive social policies. Globalisation that encourages a race to the bottom in social standards, an ageing population, deep technological changes, increasing social inequalities are some of the factors that are challenging the European solidarity model. The fact that the energy crisis leads to skyrocketing prices of oil as well as the increase in food prices is creating additional social disruption.
The reality is that the Barroso commission as well as the conservative majority dominating the EU Council and Parliament have not answered these challenges. Instead, their policies have been increasingly undermining the European welfare states. A very recent and significant example of that trend was the Council’s proposal on the directive on working time that will make maximum weekly working hours of 60 to 65 or more on average possible. Also the Services Directive is a good example of the direction which the Commission is going in. Even if the finally adopted directive is far removed from the original Bolkestein proposal it still includes a large number of loopholes.
Important measures like a directive on the Services of General Interest, in order to ensure access to high-quality health and social services, are not taken. There is an increasing tendency of the Commission, under the leadership of José Manuel Barroso to sideline matters of social inclusion; the rules of the internal market continue to be given priority over fundamental social rights.
Too often, e.g. on the services directive or on the taxation of financial speculation, the Greens have been alone in proposing a credible alternative to the conservative and neo-liberal policies which have dominated Europe’s political agenda. Besides, many who claim an aspiration to a social Europe actually oppose any role for the EU in that space.
Currently, the EU’s principal instrument in the social field has been the Open Method of Coordination (OMC). Thus far, it has failed to strengthen Europe’s social dimension, as it is subordinated to the one-sided economic and budgetary objectives of the Stability and Growth Pact and to Lisbon’s single market agenda. This subordination must be broken if we want the OMC to deliver results.
European Greens also strongly criticize recent decisions by the European Court of Justice in labor-market related cases (Laval, Viking and Rüffert) which undermine workers’ social rights and the trade unions’ right to organize and fight for the working peoples’ interests.
We cannot stand the current course; its dire social consequences are all too obvious.
Even if the EU is one of the economically most prosperous regions of the world, the statistics show that Europe is facing a serious poverty problem. In all, 76 millions of EU citizens live below the poverty line (a household income that is 60% or less of the national median household income) and 36 millions have to be considered on the borderline of that risk.
Nearly 20% or 18 million children and youngsters under 18 are at risk of poverty. The last three decades have seen a significant increase in child poverty rates which in all member states are higher than among the population as a whole. Children with the highest risk of poverty live in single parent families and in migrant families. While in general the situation of old people has improved in the last decades, a high number of old people still live in poverty. According to the EU Commission one out of six elderly people, mainly women, live in poverty.
Poverty goes hand in hand with high unemployment rates. Youth unemployment is still close to 20% across the EU and twice as high as the overall unemployment rate. Moreover, Europe has an increasing rate of working poor. For instance, even if the employment rate for women has increased in the last years, many new jobs created for women in the services sector are precarious and badly paid. Compared with 6,6% of men, 30,5% of working women in the EU have a part-time job, a choice often forced upon them by a lack of affordable childcare facilities. Moreover, an increasing number of people are being forced to accept temporary work contracts without equal social protection. All in all, as many as 8% of the employed people have to be considered at poverty risk due to their precarious situation or to low wages.
The transformation to a more knowledge based economy is increasing the risk of a dual society as a growing number of people with a lower level of education face the risk of becoming structurally redundant. At the same time our educational systems are not able yet to develop the talents of all. In many countries, the quality of education suffers from the lack of personnel and of good infrastructure. Moreover, continuous individual support and innovative learning methods are not widely implemented. Currently the social background is largely determining the educational curriculum of young people. Too many children from low-income families and from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds drop out of our educational systems.
The increasing movement of citizens for work, holiday and study calls for a better coordination of health policies and health systems in EU. This need is strengthened by an increasing movement of patients and health professionals seeking and offering health care across borders. This need for better European coordination is raising at a time, when health care systems throughout EU have increasing difficulties in meeting public expectations, the ageing of populations, introduction of new health technologies and techniques within the available resources.
We need a strong European social policy that complements and supports the national welfare systems in guaranteeing social rights and achieving the goal of a truly inclusive society.
A truly just and sustainable Social Europe needs to include a global perspective. Current unfair and aggressive trade and migration policies towards developing countries are destructive. In the long run a more egalitarian distribution of income and wealth is needed - not only within Europe but around the world. In order to reach that goal the EU should adopt the principal aim to promote a fundamental transition towards a model of balanced and equitable globalisation and development. In relationships with developing countries this includes trading relations based on non-reciprocity and specific assistance to fulfil human rights and environmental and social sustainability standards. Furthermore policies for stable and development-friendly financial markets, more development aid and a comprehensive human security strategy are urgently needed.
What is a social Europe? Our proposals
People participate in society in many different roles in different domains : family, working life, community, social networks, education, markets, democracy… The European Greens acknowledge that the lack of possibility to have decent access to one or more of these may result in social segregation and lead to exclusion. A society accepting exclusion is harmful to its members and to itself. Social inclusion of all members of a society therefore is not only a moral imperative, but an unalienable right of any citizen as well as a basic requirement for a free, participatory, peaceful but also innovative and dynamic society. Social inclusion is also a precondition for a gender-balanced and discrimination-free society.
Our idea of social inclusion comprehends the basic social rights, including the right to income, to affordable housing, to health care, to education, to work, to a good environment, to culture etc. and a guarantee of social security. It includes as well fair working income, sufficient benefits for those who need them, free access to public services like child-care but also an individual entitlement to all basic goods and services of general interest : energy, water, mobility supported by a well developed public transport-system; public space for children and young people to realize their ideas, public support in adapting apartments and public space in an ecological way, healthy food and a high level of useful and barrier-free social support-services. Life is more than sleeping, eating and working.
Within Europe, the organization of the welfare state has so far been a national competency. While we believe the European Union should not aim at developing a “one size fits all” welfare state which should replace those in force at national level, we believe it has an increasing role to play in that field. The greens are not striving for a total harmonization of an EU-social model, but rather for minimum standards that every welfare state should fulfill. Beyond that, the different cultures and models of the member states can remain as the citizens want them to.
First, as we want to increase the social justice both within and between member states, we believe the EU should act in order to foster the convergence of the social standards among its members. There are no second-rate citizens in the EU. As an example, we Greens believe the EU Stability and Growth Pact should be replaced with one which also takes into account the sustainable development objectives that we want to put at the core of the EU strategy. Concretely speaking, it should for instance include binding targets in terms of greenhouse gas emission reductions, employment rates, poverty levels – especially for children - and the level of natural capital depletion… Economic and social policy have to complement each other in a sustainable and just way.
Second, as free movement is a right of EU citizens, much remains to be done in order to ensure that those legally resident in the EU enjoy a solid social coverage when they live, study, work or simply visit another Member State.
Furthermore, in a spirit of extended solidarity, the Greens believe the EU should encourage cooperation between any number of its Member States to develop common initiatives in the social policy area, on a voluntary basis.
Ensuring a decent income
The lack of economic capacity is one of the main factors of social exclusion. Employment may not be the only way to participate in society but it provides income, enables social contact, allows political and social organization, gives in many cases access to social security benefits. Having a decent income is crucial for social inclusion, therefore we Greens want to maximize the access for everyone to a decent job and to provide income (unemployment benefits, parental leave, pensions, social allowances, student allowances…) during periods of life without full-time paid work
Non-standard employment has entered our working life for good and the definition of work has also changed; we need to accommodate our legislation according to this. Social security for the temporarily employed, the project workers and the entrepreneurs is weak. A considerable number of the adult population find themselves in a marginalized position on the job market : worthwhile employment isn't available and the terms and conditions of social security hinder their ability to get or to take a job. We need to create a welfare model that guarantees the same safety e.g. to temporary workers, to people who combine free lance work, entrepreneurship and scholarship for their regular income as for “regular workers”. We need a social security and tax reform to enhance basic security and encourage activity.
Therefore, we Greens propose :
• Fair pay for fair work : see the chapter on “Good Work”
• A minimum income, guaranteed by social security, above the poverty line for all in need. This income may include contributions in kind. Moreover, in order to improve social security, we Greens propose to study the possibility and implications of basic income models, addressing the issues of conditionality and of universality.
• That all social security allowances be indexed to the increases of national income per capita so as to ensure at least a stable replacement rate between social benefits and other incomes.
• Equitable and progressive income tax : For Greens, in order to ensure equity, income tax should take into account all sources of income. Taxation of incomes, above a minimum threshold, must be progressive to ensure that people contribute according to their ability to pay. Tax reliefs must be socially and environmentally just and encourage sustainable investment.
Services of general interest : an essential enabler of inclusion
In order to achieve a cohesive and inclusive society, it is the responsibility of governments to ensure that a range of high-quality services of general interest are provided and accessible to all citizens. These should cover health care, education, social security, energy and water, public transportation, child care, waste management, access to information and communication networks, postal services…. The public sector is obviously the best way to produce public goods such as the justice system, internal and external security, administration, infrastructure… But some economic activities might also be run by public enterprises if the community considers it as best for all.
The Greens do not have an ideological position over the ownership of services and industries and different solutions will be appropriate in the different circumstances of different countries. What we want is equal and affordable access, high quality of service, and the inclusion of the global environmental and social costs. We note that in the field of public utilities, there is no clear cut empirical evidence that private sector fulfills any better than the public sector, in an any more efficient or effective way. We further believe that public services have a particular role to play in providing social cohesion. In sectors like education, healthcare, water and public transportation, the public sector must remain the primary actor because the cold logic of the market tends to exclude the poorest and to build in further inequities.
The opening of the market is not an objective in itself, but eventually a means to facilitate the achievement of a high-quality universal service. In case of a contradiction between the objective of universal service and liberalisation, other means of ensuring universal service must be found or maintained. It is crucial to ensure that the general interest prevails over competition rules in all cases, including in economic services. Indeed, the achievement of sustainable development requires that the public interest is taken into account in all activities, economic as well as non economic.
Furthermore liberalisation and privatisation in public services e.g. postal services or public transport has in many cases had a detrimental impact on employment. General characteristics of employment in the public sector like high levels of union membership, extensive bargaining coverage and relatively homogeneous employment and working conditions have been increasingly put into question with the liberalisation and privatisation of public services in some countries.
In several sectors and countries, new competitors are covered by no or different collective agreements and profit from lower employment standards (lower wages and longer or more flexible working hours). Due to this lack of a level playing field, competition in these sectors threatens to start a downward spiral with the result that some providers use wage dumping as a method to increase their competitiveness.
Therefore we Greens propose :
• Guaranteed basic threshold of water and energy supply : Water and energy are basic needs of life; Greens support that guaranteed minimum quantities are provided, combined with progressive tariffs which see price increasing with quantities, encouraging responsible resource usage.
• Democratize decision making on SGI’s : in order to ensure equal life chances the policymakers have to involve the citizens in discussing and defining service levels and standards of quality of all services of general interest. The universal service obligations should be defined in each member States by governments ensuring participation of interested stakeholders, including consumer protection organisations and social partners.
• Decent employment and working conditions that impact positively productivity and quality of service. New providers have to be covered in the collective bargaining system, and offering regular working contracts and decent income in order prevent dumping processes in a liberalised sector.
• Self-determination on which ways to ensure equal access to public services. Member States should be allowed to require the provision in all parts of their territory of a full range of universal service obligations. It is up to each member state how to ensure quality standards of public services such as equal access to postal services in remote and thinly populated areas – for instance by national monopolies or by subsidising universal service obligations in thinly populated areas.
• An EU directive on Services of General Interest (SGI). In order to develop the social dimension of the European Union it is important to have an EU directive on Services of General Interest (SGI), which gives public services a firm and independent legal basis, which exclude free market goals from dominating the public services is produced and distributed. Services of general interest are those which are placed under the control of a competent public authority within the framework of a system of public service or universal service obligations.
Education, the foundation of a sustainable society
Education is much more than getting an educational attainment. It is a key ingredient that allows every person to develop his or her capabilities, to build his or her life in an autonomous, self-fulfilling and solidarity-based way. It is at the center of the vision that Greens have of a sustainable society. It is a moral imperative, as all human beings are born equal in their rights and it is a key tool to break down the strict determination of one’s life by his or hers social background.. Enforcing everyone’s right to education is also a basic requirement if we want a creative Europe to assume its full role and responsibility in building a sustainable world. Therefore, education must be one of the priorities of our government’s budgets.
Many ills – exclusion, discrimination, unemployment, poverty,… - of our societies have a failed education among their root causes. Too often, the school fails at reducing the social inequalities between children, and even sometimes aggravates them. It is a place where inclusion – or exclusion – of a person starts. It must therefore aim at the success of everyone, ensuring that everyone gets access to knowledge and skills and the appropriate support – both intellectual and practical – and avoiding orienting children too early into narrow education schemes.
For us Greens, education is not just an academic concept. The school is also the place where the child will be able to develop his/her personality and abilities in all fields such as arts, nature, sports. Our education systems have to integrate all these dimensions from the earliest ages, and include learning by experience. This demands a stronger cooperation between educational institutions and many types of local associations.
The kindergarten, then the school are the first places outside the family, where children experience social life. To a large extent, they determine the way they will shape their vision of society. Therefore it is crucial that educational institutions function as a place where values such as democracy, solidarity, non-violence and ecological awareness are not only taught, but lived on an everyday basis. In that sense, it is key to us that all stakeholders – pupils and students, teachers, parents as well as concerned external partners – be associated with the management of educational institutions. It should also be the place where one learns to live in a multi-cultural society and to value diversity and inter-cultural exchanges. Strong cross-border partnerships between educational institutions are excellent tools to enlarge the horizons of students and to promote open-mindedness.
In addition to being a place of learning, educational institutions are also a place where people spend a large part of their active life. It must therefore provide them with a safe and healthy working environment, which is a pre-condition to the development of everyone’s personality and abilities.
Also, education is not something that you solely acquire in your youth years; in a changing world, the aspirations and needs of individuals will evolve over time. The opportunity must be given to everyone to receive education throughout one’s life.
As education is a basic right and need, we Greens stand totally opposed to have it governed by market mechanisms, at whichever level. We consider it to be one of the most important services of general interest, hence the governments must retain the responsibility of defining the objectives of their education systems, independently of short-term economic interests, and of providing the appropriate means to achieve them. Within that framework, educational institutions must enjoy a degree of autonomy that allows them to decide how to best achieve the objectives.
Therefore, we Greens propose :
• Free education : governments must provide kindergarten, primary and secondary school education for free to all, without discrimination Higher education should also be free; no country can afford to waste their resources and only guarantee higher education to its wealthy citizens.
• Anti-discrimination and de-segregation measures : in order to reduce the number of school drop-outs, Greens are supporting increased efforts (personnel, infrastructures) that aim at enabling the most vulnerable social groups to achieve real integration into our education systems. Therefore we promote the creation of integrative schools, which aim at bringing and keeping together pupils and students from diverse social backgrounds. Schools that are located in areas with a higher degree of ethnic or social diversity should enjoy positive discrimination. The content itself of education has to be more open to cultural diversity.
• All education institutions must take an active part in achieving gender equality in our societies. This entails introducing related topics into the curricula, combating sexist prejudices in the curricula as well as in textbooks as well as a special attention to gender balance among teachers as well as in the management bodies of the schools. Sexist prejudices must actively be combated at school.
• Transform kindergartens into places of learning and exchange for both children and their parents, where workshops and individual consultation will be offered to support parents in their educational role.
• Getting more personnel with high pedagogical qualification into the kindergarten.
• To open a space at the kindergarten and at school for more individually determined and project-based activities that make “learning by experience” possible.
• An education based on individual support to give pupils and students enough help and orientation in their learning process. That requires smaller classes and more teachers at school.
• The creation of school materials that widen the national perspective on history and culture to a European and global one.
• Democratic participation of pupils and students in decisions about the use of their school’s/university’s resources and the priorities of their curricula.
• An education allowance open to every student and linked to an active participation to the curriculum so that every young person can engage in university studies independently from his/her social background;
• Expand the EU student exchange programmes to everyone : one of the success stories of the EU in the field of education has been the various student exchange programs (Erasmus, Comenius,…). Greens support their expansion and the introduction of cross-border study programs to deepen the transnational exchange. Our objective is that each European student should have at least one opportunity during his/her curriculum (secondary or higher education) to participate in one of these programs. Additionally, we call for similar financial support for programmes concerning training and education during the professional life (e.g. Leonardo da Vinci …) especially for low-skilled sectors. The possibility to live, study and work abroad should be given to all European citizens regardless of their academic or economic background.
• Encouraging a sustainable development-oriented education : As Europe has an opportunity to become a leader in making sustainable development a reality, Greens advocate programs that encourage students to choose curricula, in both technical as human disciplines, that support this objective. At the same time, sustainable development must be integrated in the curricula as an inter-disciplinary dimension.
• Life-long learning is a basic right, from which all individuals, regardless of age or social position, benefit and society as a whole as well. Governments should develop low threshold facilities, especially focusing on those who don’t have access to them. See also under ‘good work.
• That governments remain fully responsible for the funding of the education systems, including higher education. We stand totally opposed to the interpretation of the EU internal competition rules that claims that such a funding is discriminatory against private providers. Similarly, the monitoring and evaluation of the quality of the education systems must firmly remain a competence of governments, as opposed to private rating and accreditation agencies.
An inclusive society for the elderly …
It is an historic improvement that, thanks to growing wealth and longer life expectancy, most people in the European countries can have the possibility of living well after their work life. Even when confronted with the demographic change in the European countries, the European Greens want to secure and develop the equal possibilities for all to live a decent third age. We believe that all elderly people deserve equal chances to choose and create their own lives and do it as well and as long as possible. This is part of our vision of a society with equal opportunities for development and self-realization. The right to be in charge of and create your own life, to participate actively in society should apply to all people irrespective of age.
It is the responsibility of the political society – on a local, regional, national and European level - to ensure this. In all European countries the chances of the elderly are far from equal; it is our common political duty to form an environment promoting continuity, self-determination and use of one’s own capabilities, preserving the identities of the elderly.
Within our societies, many older people are left with inadequate support due to changing cultures in families and working life, an inadequate social care systems and governments pressing down on public expenditure. In many cases, it is one’s purchasing power that determines who will have the best chances to live the kind of life they want. Due to a lack of quality public care facilities, elderly people and their families are left alone to deal with these situations. Together with a rising inequality in pensions this is developing new kinds of social disparity in life chances among elderly in European countries.
Therefore we Greens propose :
• Preventive measures : The European Greens put the emphasis on preventive measures during working life, on a healthy living environment and a life style enabling a long life with minimal illness . We give a high priority to preventive measures having a beneficial effect on social groups with the least chances of life.
• The necessary practical help, rehabilitation and care equally and free. Society must offer the necessary practical help, rehabilitation and individual care in a way that strengthens the opportunity for the elderly to choose their life, including facilitating the development of social networks involving the elderly and others.
• Flexible housing facilities : Greens want all elderly people to have the possibility to live at home and independently as long as they can and so desire. Governments must promote new types of housing in order to allow community care, such as inter-generational houses, community housing… They should encourage housing construction standards that allow for life long occupancy.
• Increased diversity in our care systems : As the first generation of immigrants is retiring, the care for elderly has to adapt itself to a greater degree of ethnic diversity in all its provisions. Individual care should now include meeting new needs and demands e.g. specific meal provisions, religious facilities,…
… and for the children
The European Greens believe that the development and maximizing the life chances of all children has to be one of the most important objectives of all European societies. Children must be put on the centre stage of European welfare societies of the 21st century for at least two reasons. First, the European Greens believe that the development of our children is a major end in itself, enabling everyone in the coming generations to participate in society and working life. Second, the support to families in all their diversity, and the development of children have important social benefits. They help achieving a mixture of generations within our societies; they are a way to strengthen solidarity between generations; they give all parents a fair and affordable possibility to combine work, career and family life, tackling one of the main roots of gender discrimination. Finally, investing in securing personal development and a rising level of education to all children is a must if we want European societies to contribute to meeting the challenges facing our planet.
The traditionalist views that the care and development of our children was the sole responsibility of the family, and that family was composed of a breadwinning man and his wife are still at the heart of social policies across Europe. This is counter-productive as families are becoming more unstable, women want to work and pursue a career, more men want to be involved in family life, and a single income family is no longer able to secure reasonable living standards. Sticking to the traditional views and family policies impedes tackling the citizens’ desire to raise children and reduces life chances to many children, both matters of rising importance in modern European societies.
The European Greens believe that the political society - on a local, regional, national and European level - has the responsibility for eliminating the social constraints on having children and ensure optimal opportunities for the development of children.
Therefore we, the Greens, propose :
• Eliminating child poverty. Children living in families suffering from economic poverty and income insecurity are not only in short of clothes, healthy food, housing and social activities. They also have less access to education and lower chances of personal development. The European Greens propose a binding target of eliminating child poverty in the next 5 years.
• Family friendly work life balance policies The European Greens propose family friendly work life balance policies and guaranteed rights for employees (e.g. reduced working time, working from home, employee-oriented work flexibility…) to help combine work with responsibilities and choices outside of the workplace such as raising children.
• Universal and affordable child care for all. Universal child care for all will matter a lot in meeting the citizens’ desires to have children. At the same time it is effectively preventing lifetime income losses and securing equal possibilities in working life, especially for women. In consequence universal and affordable child care will contribute to growth of the workforce. EU Governments should therefore stick to the goals they agreed upon as part of the Lisbon strategy to make child care universal and affordable. We Greens believe it should be equally available for all children under 3 and free to families with low income. By investing in the infrastructure and in the quality of child care, we contribute efficiently to the development of social, cognitive skills and the personality of children creating equal life chance to the coming generations, including children who are most likely to be excluded.
• Longer maternity leave and minimum of 12 months paid parental leave : We support the Commission's proposal to increase in line with the ILO recommendation the minimum period of maternity leave from 14 to 18 weeks and to pay women 100% of their salary beyond the current minimum of paying at least equivalent to sick pay. To give parents a fair chance of giving care to children without resigning from the labour market the European Greens propose to go beyond the current EU directive and give a right to a minimum of 12 months of paid parental leave. We need incentives to encourage both parents to take advantage of the leave. The parental leave should therefore be divided between both parents. The right to parental leave must be combined with the right to job security, with measures to facilitate the re-entry into the job, and non-discrimination of pregnant women.
….and for persons with disabilities
Persons with disabilities cannot lead a self-determined life without accessibility on all levels (especially infrastructure such as schools, public transport, etc.). Accessibility for persons with disability is a positive fundamental right, not a matter of pity. Equal rights for persons with disabilities need to be included in development cooperation.
Persons with disabilities represent 10 percent of the world’s population, 80% thereof live in developing countries. The new UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities entered into force on 3 May 2008 as the first legally binding international document regarding the rights of persons with disabilities. The UN Convention ensures equal rights of persons with disabilities in all areas of life and politics, including development cooperation.
Therefore we, the Greens, propose :
• The EU has to adopt the proposal of the Commission for a fifth anti-discrimination directive to fight discrimination outside employment on grounds of disability, age, religion or belief and sexual orientation.
• Equal opportunities for persons with disabilities have to be included in all EU policies
• a swift ratification and implementation of the new UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, therefore:
• Development cooperation in Europe has to support developing countries in their strive to implement the rights of persons with disabilities according to Art. 32 of the UN Convention; the rights of persons with disabilities thus have to be included in EU developing cooperation policy.
Good work – a promise to be fulfilled today
Greens promote the concept of “good work”, which combines advanced labour standards with the possibility for everyone to fulfill one’s own aspirations and to contribute to a sustainable society.
For Greens fair working conditions means much more than simply promoting the core ILO labour standards, which include the worker’s right to information and consultation, right of collective bargaining and action, protection in the event of unjustified dismissal, fair and just working conditions. They also include : job security, a healthy and safe working environment, sufficient and equal pay, strong employment protection, reasonable working hours, lifelong learning, equal opportunities, anti-discrimination measures, workers rights to assert their interests and to participate, family-friendly working arrangements, arrangements to adapt working life to the demands of life outside work, integration of migrant workers, social security and benefits.
Greens are strongly opposing the current trends of cutting on workers rights in the name of flexibility and competitiveness. We strongly believe that the high level of worker’s protection and employment standards forms the basis of our societies and is fully compatible with high employment.
To ensure fair working conditions and make “good work” a reality, Greens propose :
• Flexibility with full security: The concept which marries flexibility with security is very green indeed. This concept requires a sufficient level of social protection, social security and unemployment benefits, active labour market policies and training/lifelong learning opportunities, as well as broad welfare provisions including universal access to services of general interest. However, the term “flexicurity” is too often misused as a disguise for unrestrained flexibility and deregulation. While flexibility is important to allow our societies and our economies to respond to the challenges of a changing world, security is no less important. For the Greens, a key instrument to guarantee the right balance between these objectives is a strong institutionalized dialogue between the social partners, representing the citizens at work and the employers. This has a key role to play in shaping the rules and the instruments (contract conditions, wages, benefits…) of the labour market. This requires strong and representative trade unions. We Greens strive within the trade union movement for a more solidarity-based policy towards women and migrants and a more inclusive political strategy regarding non-standard and irregular employment.
• Working time adaptability: Regular working hours are important for quality of life and balancing professional and family and other responsibilities. This includes reasonable working hours per week as well as possibilities to reduce working time individually for certain periods, for both men and women. In that perspective, during the recent revision of the EU Working Time Directive, the EU Council pushed to raise the maximum average working time from 48 to 60, 65 or even more hours a week; this is strongly opposed by the Greens. Provisions regarding working time should allow sufficient time for citizens to develop activities outside their job and be organized in order to maximize their impact in terms of job creation. Part-time work is predominantly a feature of female employment, as it is often a compromise strategy that women follow because of the lack of accessible and affordable facilities for childcare and dependent persons care.
• Decent minimum wages : In order to protect workers, especially those with the most basic skills, from exploitation by employers and to tackle poverty Greens propose that minimum wages are implemented in each country of the European Union. The way to set those minimum wages – law, collective labor agreements at various levels - must be left at the discretion of each country. They must allow for differences, e.g. on a sector or geographical basis. If this is to contribute to a higher level of equality within and between the European countries, the level of that minimum wage has to be related to the average level of wages in each country. In order to be effective it is important to also cover the non-standard employment by minimum wage provisions.
• Fighting the gender pay gap: Although the legal framework of the EU with regard to equal pay is quite extensive, the persistence of the gender pay gap in all European countries is still a fact. It will be essential to formulate concrete objectives (see section on “Access to good work”) and timetables on the closing of the gender pay gap at the European level. We claim equal pay policies aimed at tackling direct or indirect gender wage discrimination; equal opportunities policy aimed at encouraging women to have continuous employment patterns, and at desegregation of employment by gender; and wage policies aimed at reducing wage inequality and improving the remuneration of low-paid and/or female-dominated jobs in sectors.
• Equal treatment and pay for posted workers: Anyone should have the right to work anywhere in the EU and it is more than regretful that this fundamental right is not applied uniformly in all EU member states. However, the free movement of workers and services has to be balanced against fundamental rights and the possibility for governments and trade unions to ensure non-discrimination and equal treatment. We can not turn a blind eye when posted migrant workers are paid less than national workers because they are considered as "services". In addition, situations where workers in host countries are pressured by low wage competition of posted workers could lead to xenophobia and counterproductive anger against the EU. It is therefore in everybody’s interest that workers enjoy equal conditions, whether national or migrant. Greens are calling on member states that the principle of equal treatment is applied from the first day on of posting. We believe that we have to ensure by changes in EU legislation that the principle of equal pay for equal work, the rights of workers, including the right to strike as well as collective agreements agreed upon at national or regional levels are not eliminated by the rules of the internal market.
• Combating irregular employment : Whereas non-standard employment may be beneficial if it suits the circumstances of workers and is voluntary, Greens cast a critical eye on the growing numbers of temporary employment, irregular conditions of employment and non-standard contracts. In many cases, non-standard employment is not chosen and many workers - especially young people, migrants and women - are falling outside the scope of fundamental labour and social rights, thereby undermining the principles of equal treatment. We therefore condemn any abusive replacement of regular employment with irregular employment without any imperative economic necessity, at the expense of employees and of the general public. Greens propose to ensure all workers core rights as adequate employment security and protection, independently of their contractual agreements. Legislation is needed to ensure that the same core rules and wages immediately apply to temporary workers as if they were employed directly by the enterprises;
• Fight against undeclared work : The raising trends in different EU countries of undeclared work and underground economy damages the economy, leaves workers unprotected, is detrimental to consumers, reduces tax revenues and leads to unfair competition between firms. We therefore need a clear and strong coordination between EU government enforcement agencies, labour inspections and trade unions, social security administration and tax authorities. The restriction on working permits for some EU citizens and migrant workers from third countries leads to a growing informal economy and exploitation of undocumented workers. We need to focus on instruments and mechanisms based on the fundamental human rights of workers to tackle exploitation, to regulate liability in the subcontracting and outsourcing of workers and to make legal employment easier. We call for EU legislation to define self-employment and employees with a dependent employment relationship to fight "bogus self-employment" as well as legislation to combat letterbox-companies which are created for the sole purpose of offering “services” to host countries, to avoid the full application of those country rules and regulations especially with regard to wages and working conditions.
• Antidiscrimination and Diversity Management: A working place of equal chances and non-discrimination is the basis for a sustainable working environment. Greens call for proper implementation of the EU antidiscrimination directives, the promotion of diversity management at work and propose a European black list of companies violating core social and working rights including antidiscrimination law.
• Life-long learning : Developing one’s abilities throughout life is the best way for everyone to have a good work. In an increasingly knowledge-based economy, it is also a must for our enterprises to be successful and an essential asset for our societies in meeting the challenges they face especially the deep changes we will need to adopt in order to successfully combat climate change. This is true for every person, in every sector, including personal services where at first sight, some may believe that no particular skills are required. Lifelong learning for all is an essential way to fight low pay and to increase the quality of products and services. Greens propose instituting a new right to lifelong learning for all, supported by an increase in EU funds in this area and special training programmes but also adequate legislation that enables individuals to pursue education throughout their lives (e.g. support to life-long education schemes, flexibility to take sabbaticals during one’s career, obligation for employers to provide or allow for paid education, …)
Stimulating the access of everyone to good work
We Greens share the objective of empowering all individuals and encouraging them to get more actively involved in employment or in self-employed activities through the development of their autonomy and of their innovative capacities. On the other hand, we underline that the responsibility of participating in the labour market should never be borne solely by the individuals, especially when they belong to vulnerable categories of the society. In a truly "active social state", it is the responsibility of public authorities to set up a framework in which individuals will be stimulated to get a job while protecting their quality of life and their level of life even in case of failure to find a job. Employers should also be "activated" in the sense that they too bear a responsibility for not leaving behind the more vulnerable categories. The responsibilities of governments, enterprises and individuals should be equally enforced.
Several Member States have been quite successful in fighting mass unemployment; they are those whose governments have been able to create a protective and enabling framework for the individuals. Unfortunately, the so-called active policies have mainly consisted, in many Member States, in chasing the unemployed when they fail to find a job. While we Greens agree that abuses have to be combated, we also consider that completely excluding individuals from all social benefits is a social backwardness and ultimately counter-productive.
Furthermore, as developed in the previous chapter, we Greens do not share the vision that all economic activities worth equally and therefore that "a job is a job" and should be accepted by the unemployed whatever the working conditions, the sector of activity and the geographical distance between home and work. These factors should all be taken into consideration when assessing the individual situations of job seekers.
Finally, public authorities should refrain from unconditional cuts in tax and social costs, which can only lead to fiscal and social dumping. A policy of modulation of those costs in function of job creation and of the social composition of the companies' workforce will be much more efficient.
Concretely, we Greens make proposals in 4 complementary aspects.
• Stimulate creation of activities :
public authorities should invest in priority in green economy and in sectors which are employment-intensive and offer a social added-value (personal services, health, education,...) ;
public authorities should discriminate positively in favour of the social economy (reduction of social costs for persons employed in the non-profit sector and for economic activities which fulfill social economy criteria ) ;
public authorities should set up coherent local development strategies based on partnerships between all the local economic, social and cultural actors so that they cooperate to develop activities linked to the local needs, resources and specificities.
• Stimulate job-readiness:
public authorities in conjunction with social partners and public employment agencies should define coherent and structured employment and integration pathways, especially for the vulnerable categories of the population ;
structured pathways should not focus only on enhancing technical skills but should also take into account the various dimensions of exclusion: housing, health, culture, access to public services, transport,... ;
content of the training should focus on the acquisition of basic skills (literacy,...) and on personal empowerment (self-confidence) ; pathways should include all the steps from training to work ;
public authorities should set up a protection framework which guarantees that individuals will keep unemployment allowances as long as they participate in a structured pathway scheme and which preserves unconditional right to a minimum income ; in the notion of "flexicurity", the "security" element should come first, and the "flexibility" element comes second, provided that a prior appropriate and effective protection system exists ;
the unsustainable nature of a job (sector of activity, working conditions, distance from home) should be recognised as a valid justification for an unemployed person to refuse a job offer.
• Stimulate working time distribution:
on the collective side, public authorities in conjunction with the social partners should tend to reduce the working time ceilings either on national level or at sectoral level ; given the current political context, the priority is to reject policies which increase those working time ceilings ("travailler plus pour gagner plus" ) ;
The productivity of work increases with the employees well being. The employers of both the public and the private sectors should enable the employees themselves to define their use of time according to their life situations, e.g. do they want to have more free time instead of earning more money. This would be important especially for parents of small children. Possibilities for study leaves and job alternation leaves also increase both well being and productivity.
public authorities in conjunction with social partners should favour progressive retirement so that older employees are encouraged to reduce step by step their working hours instead of going directly from full-time job to full-time retirement.
• Stimulate equal access to employment:
The parental costs should be equally divided between the employers of mothers and fathers in order to ensure that social security payments do not discriminate between sexes.
so called social enterprises that employ e.g long-time unemployed should be favoured by tax concessions etc.
Equality could be promoted through positive discrimination measures. The public sector should set an example by hiring from equally qualified and competent applicants the man/woman who represent the sex that is underrepresented.
public authorities and social partners should fight actively all forms of discrimination on the labour market and encourage diversity at work in all its dimensions : ethnic, gender, disability, religion or belief, age, sexual orientation. They are to be seen as asset for the economy rather than as a burden.
Sustainable and universal pensions
As European Greens we vow that we will make fighting poverty during old age and guaranteeing a decent life to the elderly one of the social priorities of our common endeavours.
Social security for the elderly regardless of class or status has been a political goal even long before the modern welfare state was created. Poverty as a widely prevalent condition for old people was one of the great social illnesses the welfare state was designed to deal with. Yet more than a century after the first beginnings of modern social policy, there is not a single European country in which poverty among elderly people has been eradicated. Countries have made a lot of progress, and in some countries we find less poverty among the older generation today than at any previous point in history. But we also find new tendencies of increasing poverty or clear indications that poverty will definitely increase over the next 10-15 years among old people, if not checked.
The pension systems of the individual EU member countries are manifold, and their development lies within the political responsibility of these member countries. On the other hand, we see common challenges with regard to the pension systems that all our societies have to address.
It is not for the EGP to define the architecture of pensions systems which are deeply rooted in national traditions. But, whatever the system and while we oppose the market-oriented dogma that pension systems must be privatised to remain stable under demographic and competitive conditions, in order
To make pensions sustainable and truly universal, we Greens propose :
• That governments assumed their responsibility of strengthening the public pension schemes and making them sustainable, as they are universal and solidarity-based;
• That any pension system ensures social justice and inclusiveness, overcoming the fundamental shortcomings and flaws that form a basis for poverty among the old. Our most basic demand is, that protection against poverty in old age has to be universal, including women and men, natives and migrants, people from different professions, people that were successful in securing employment and others that suffered extended unemployment or never did paid work. Whether to achieve this goal through the pension system or the social benefit system, is up to each member state.
• There should be no socially unjust tax incentives for private based schemes.
• The necessary increase of the pension expenditures is one of the main reasons for a structural reform of social security financing., which is tackled in the last chapter of this document.
• Reorienting the investments of the pension funds : A huge proportion of pension funds are currently used for speculation and investment in socially irresponsible and unsustainable activities; the Greens want mandatory measures to re-orientate their investments towards sustainable development and socially responsible activities.
• Achieving gender justice in pension systems : Insofar as pension systems attribute transfers according to the number of years of employment, women are often disadvantaged. Also the gender pay gap often leads to lower pensions of women. We want to overcome that, because we believe in gender justice. As precarious working relations expand in many labour markets, those working under those difficult conditions are often directly heading towards poverty at old age. We want to change that, because we want to guarantee every individual a living standard above the poverty line.
• Making the public pensions schemes really universal : As an increasing number of people is self-employed and because of that not participating in legally mandated or company initiated pension systems, but doesn’t earn enough to be able to opt for privately financed alternatives, these people are increasingly in danger of not having old age protection at all. We want to change that by including these people into the public pension systems.
• Ensuring portability of rights while respecting tax obligations : As more and more people move between different EU member countries during their work life, they encounter numerous administrative problems when they want to make sure they don’t lose any of the old age protection they have earned. We want to overcome that by making all pension benefits portable throughout the EU, ensuring however the respect of every individual’s tax obligations.
• Giving the right to a third age to all : Thanks to public pension schemes, private pensions and better health conditions an increasing number of people in the EU member countries has the freedom to choose their third age, that is to live a decent life between retirement and becoming impaired by serious illness. This possibility is lacking to others with less healthy life years and with small or no pension schemes. We want to develop flexible pension schemes giving all the right to a third age. This might imply early retirement possibilities to some and possibilities of postponed pensions to others.
• Fostering the collaboration among EU Member States : EU member countries´ governments should agree to create within the EU a mutual reporting and discussion mechanism on a yearly basis concerning their respective pension systems. This should create more transparency and make it possible to compare the different degrees of effectiveness with which national pension systems are designed to alleviate the poverty problem, particularly among more disadvantaged groups like elderly women, migrants, parents of large families, people with precarious employment or the unemployed. The European Parliament as well as the national parliaments should be invited to discuss these reports, helping the latter in drafting legislation that may be instrumental in overcoming poverty at old age.
Living in a good health – a basic human right
Good health is a basic condition of a good life, and for the Greens, preventing damages to our health is the first step in achieving that goal. Our health is affected by the quality of our environment, especially the water and the atmosphere. Our societies face diseases such as cancer on such a scale that they have become the first cause of mortality. Climate change will present us with new health challenges as the pattern of disease changes and high summer temperatures will affect the vulnerable. Our health is also affected by the quality of the food we eat, by the working conditions we live in, by the quality of our housing, by the way we move in our environment… For us, it makes little sense to try and remedy the impact of all those factors on our health, if we do not tackle the root causes first.
As living in a good health is one of the most basic human rights, we Greens believe that the responsibility of defining health policy in both its preventive and care dimensions lies with governments. Health care is a service of general interest and therefore, in this space, in case of contradiction, the general interest must prevail over the logic of the market.
The first objective that governments must have is to ensure that everyone in society, has access to quality health care. No-one should be left without healthcare, whatever their status in our society. This requires a special focus on those social groups who are the most vulnerable, hence universal coverage and affordability must be key goals of any sustainable health policy. Furthermore, we Greens believe that people must have access to health care, including mental health care, as close as possible to where they live; this requires a dense and diversified network of health care providers, ranging from general practitioners, community associations and local hospitals to large institutions able to tackle the most difficult cases. In that perspective, we consider the general practitioner and other first-line specialists (pediatricians, gynaecologists, dentists…), who enjoys a lasting and privileged relationship with his/her patients to have a key role to play in ensuring an effective and efficient health care.
Many concrete measures, especially preventative measures, contributing to a healthy society are outlined elsewhere in this and other EGP documents; more specifically as regards health care,
We Greens propose :
• That governments actively encourage healthy lifestyles promoting healthy behaviours as far as food, physical exercise, free-time activities, consumption of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, family education, prevention of sexually transmitted diseases (incl. HIV),… are concerned. A special attention should be devoted to responsible driving behaviours as road accidents are still a major cause of mortality across Europe. This should be achieved by stepping up awareness campaigns and increasing educational programs targeted at children.
• That the EU and governments improve the legislation on a safe and healthy working environment. We believe workers should be protected from hazards such as: noise, solar and other radiation, working in excessive temperatures and long working hours. Law enforcement efforts in this domain have to be increased.
• That the EU suppresses all remaining subsidies to the tobacco industry which are still part of the common agricultural policy.
• That the EU encourages the member states to cooperate on developing the quality of their health care systems. We Greens propose EU-wide action plans to raise standards of treatment for specific conditions, as is already underway in terms of cancer care. Ultimately, EU legislation should define minimum quality standards in health care.
• That governments undertake actions to ensure that sufficient numbers of well-trained medical personnel are available across the EU now and in the coming years. Doctors, especially those who are on the first line with patients, nurses, para-medical personnel must be trained and given access to their profession in adequate numbers to allow a dense and diversified care network to be ensured.
• On cross-border health care issues, to improve coordination of the health services between the member states, in order to ensure that the growing number of people moving from one country to another don’t face unnecessary problems. In addition, measures must be taken in order to clarify liability in the case of cross-border health care, and to ensure that the possibility for citizens to choose to be treated abroad within the E.U. and be reimbursed is not jeopardizing the sustainability of national social security and healthcare systems.
• A coordination at the EU level to tackle fraud and corruption in health services across borders and ensure the money is spent on healthcare. For example, we advocate a better administration of the cross-border coordination on healthcare provision as well as combating more effectively the sale and use of counterfeited medicine.
• That healthcare infrastructures be developed and maintained which are not dependent on schemes such as so-called private/public partnerships which provide facilities today but at a huge cost to tomorrow's tax-payers.
• That democratic governance of the national healthcare systems be encouraged through, for instance, the involvement of patients.
Social welfare – a value, not just a cost
The way the welfare state is financed varies from one country to another. Funding is provided either through taxes paid by taxpayers, or through social contributions based on labour. Most of countries tend to have a mix of the two funding sources.
Most of welfare state systems have gone through financial difficulties over the last two decades for different reasons. First of all, unemployment and social exclusion have increased spending in many countries. Second, healthcare needs have expanded due to the aging of our societies, the development of new diseases and increasingly expensive treatments. Third, the aging of population means the amount of money society needs to spend in pensions has increased : more pensioners live on pensions for a longer period, and the welfare state is required to meet a rising demand : dependency in the fourth age. Fourth, in an economic competition where workers skills are key, States have to spend more money on education. Last but not least, tax competition and tax heavens have reduced the resources available to the Member States to finance these growing demands. As an example, corporate taxes have decreased on average by ten points in real terms in the UE for the last ten years due to fiscal competition between member states.
We recognize the necessity of addressing the financial issues facing our welfare systems, but we do not believe the solution to be in the usual combination of privatisation and of a weakening of the welfare provisions. For many people, social benefits (pensions, job seeker allowances…) provide the only income or are an investment to built the future upon (education…).
As we have never been so « rich », as measured by GDP, it would be paradoxical not to be able to finance social programs to meet risks we were able to meet previously. In order to meet both the demographic evolution and to improve the social inclusion in Europe, we Greens are convinced that the percentage of GDP dedicated to welfare as a whole will need to be increased, even taking into account the positive impact of preventive health care and of a reduction of unemployment. We value this both as an ethical obligation as well as an investment in our future.
In this context, we Greens propose the following measures
• A new Green deal : A concerted initiative by the EU and its Member States to foster a new wave of green investments to prepare our economy for post oil era and to prevent further climate change. This will at the same time increase welfare system revenue while cutting unemployment as these investments will create millions of jobs in areas such as renewable energy, collective transportation, organic agriculture, green construction, … (See the paper “A Green economic vision for Europe” for more details).
• To make preventative health care a priority and to move away from healthcare systems that are only cure-oriented. Prevention can dramatically reduce the overall cost of care (with less leaves of absence, less prescriptions, etc.), meaning a more effective and efficient healthcare system, good for our health and for the economy.
• That the financing base of welfare systems be broadened e.g. by including proceeds from taxes on profits, capital gains and energy consumption… Capital and corporations must assume their fair share of taxes and social contributions, which implies raising the intensity and effectiveness of the combat against fiscal and social fraud and evasion. A point where the European Union can be most useful is to set and enforce harmonised tax bases as well as differentiated minimum tax rates in these domains. A truly social Europe does not go without a fiscal Europe.
• Suppressing unjust tax incentives for private pensions : States have introduced tax incentives to encourage people to save on their own for their pensions. In many cases, this public money would be more fairly and efficiently spent if injected in the public pension schemes. There should be no socially unjust tax incentives for private based schemes.
• Scrutinize tax breaks and social contribution discounts for employers : Many Europeans countries have awarded employers all sorts of tax breaks or discounts on social contributions. We believe these should be given careful scrutiny in terms of efficiency (e.g. number and quality of jobs created). We Greens are in favour of modulating taxes and social contributions according to social and environmental criteria.
The way forward
Building a social Europe has been a mantra that many have repeated for decades. However, while our Union enjoys living standards that are among the highest on Earth, our continent is facing serious social issues. Inequalities in revenues are growing, illnesses that we believed extinct are coming back, too many children are falling out of our education systems, while many elderly live in indecent conditions; discrimination is still a reality in too many places; the funding of pension and health systems is coming at risk.
For us Greens, a social Europe is not just a nice to have add-on to the European Single Market. A social Europe, one that really enables and empowers everyone to live a fulfilling life, within the limits of this planet and in solidarity with all its people and the future generations, is an integral part of the European identity and a key ingredient to our future success. Living in good health, with decent income, in homes that deserves that name, enjoying the opportunity to develop one’s abilities and skills throughout life, working on jobs that bring fulfillment and create value for the individual and for the society, having the possibility to build a family, to live a long and healthy life in a society that does not discriminate : this is all part of the promise Europe has for all its citizens, regardless of their ethnic origin, their age, their gender, their religion or belief, their sexual orientation or any disability.
Fulfilling that promise must now come back at the heart of the action of Governments across Europe. At the highest level, the European Union must demonstrate leadership and initiative in defining ambitious goals and setting standards in the area of social policies. And these must not be less binding that those which permitted the creation of the single market or the Euro; for the Greens, social goals are no less hard than economic and financial goals.
As history has shown, rising social standards are not going opposite to economic development. On the contrary, undermining those standards is the surest way for Europe to enter a downwards spiral that will leave it poorer as a whole. True enough, Europe was at the forefront of the exploitation of this planet, but also of the building of a more socially sustainable society. At a moment when all around us, we see peoples of the world craving not just for material comfort, but also for a substantial improvement in their quality of life, now is not the time to give up on that dream. Rather, now is the time for all the people of this planet to enter together a path of sustainable development, one that will learn from the past in drastically reducing our consumption of non-renewable resources and our emissions of greenhouse gases.
Finding the path to this new deal for the citizens of Europe and of the World will not happen all by itself. The challenges are daunting : providing education, ensuring health and make this affordable for all, fighting poverty and discrimination while keeping the social systems financially sound is not an easy thing to do. It will require the involvement of all players. Governments, from the local to the European level, accountable to their citizens, must regain the initiative, redefining priorities towards social goals. In short, people must come back to the center of the agenda. Enterprises of all sizes must also embrace these new challenges; creating shareholder value as a goal will need to be replaced by creating stakeholder value, in a balanced way. But it is also up to all of us citizens, in our various capacities, for example as consumers, as students, as workers (employed or not) or as business leaders, to behave in a responsible way. While all of us stand to benefit from a really social Europe, it will not come true without us all taking our share, in whatever small or big way, to build this new society.
Voted by the EGP Council
October 11, 2008