On the 5th June, the European Commission released its Country Specific Recommendations to all 28 Member States as part of the European Semester process.
The European Semester is a cycle of primarily economic and fiscal policy coordination within the EU, although it has recently begun to focus on social policy too. Its focus is on the 6-month period from the beginning of each year, hence its name – the ‘semester’.
A key part of this process is the release of the Country Specific Recommendations, outlining the European Commission’s view of what Member States must do better.
So, how successful were we in getting the European Commission to prioritise disability issues in its recommendations? Well, all in all, eighteen countries saw a specific mention of disability in their recommendations. This was the case for Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.
In almost all cases these mentions related to either fostering better support for persons with disabilities to enter the labour market, reducing the risk of poverty and social exclusion, educational attainment and, albeit to a lesser extent, community-based services and independent living. Most of these specific mentions were made in the Recitals at the beginning of the document. The recitals give contextual information outlining why the Commission has made the recommendations it has.
The recommendations themselves come in the form of between two and five numbered bullet points at the end of the document. These recommendations indicate the concrete actions the Commission advises the Member State in question to take. Only one country saw disability explicitly mentioned within the recommendations: Latvia. The specific mention of persons with disabilities in this recommendation is a positive step, and a potentially encouraging sign for the disability community in Latvia. The recommendations reads:
Address social exclusion notably by improving the adequacy of minimum income benefits, minimum old-age pensions and income support for people with disabilities […]
You can access the full Country Specific Recommendations for your country by clicking on this link.
Specific mentions of disability
All the mentions below are in the recitals, whichcontextual information outlining why the Commission has made the recommendations it has.
Recital 13: Labour market participation is low for the low-skilled, people with a migrant background, older workers and people with disabilities, suggesting that both structural and group-specific factors hinder their integration in the labour market, while existing activation measures are not equally effective for all population groups.
Recital 14: There are financial disincentives for beneficiaries of sickness and disability schemes and second earners to take up full-time employment.
Recital 17: The employment rate has reached the highest level since Bulgaria joined the EU and the unemployment rate is below the EU average. Despite these positive developments, some groups such as the low-skilled, young people, Roma and people with disabilities still face difficulties to find work.
Recital 21: Social services are hampered by low quality and lack of an integrated approach towards active inclusion. Disparities in access to social services, healthcare and long-term care persist. This undermines their ability to provide comprehensive support for the most vulnerable, such as the Roma, children, the elderly, persons with disabilities and people living in rural areas.
Recital 13: The proportion of the population at risk of poverty or social exclusion is declining, but remains above the EU average. This risk mainly concerns the elderly and people with disabilities. The capacity of social benefits to reduce poverty remains weak compared to the EU average.
Recital 9: Employment has risen steadily over the past seven years and unemployment has fallen considerably. Nonetheless, the labour market potential of women with young children, the lowskilled and people with disabilities remains underutilised. Against the background of labour shortages, there is clear scope for increasing their labour market participation […] Similarly, the employment rate of people with disabilities remains low. Due to limited capacity, public employment services currently fall short of providing jobseekers with personalised, continuous support.
Recital 7: Continuous investments in adult and life-long learning and digital skills could also help in addressing this challenge. Furthermore, it would be beneficial to focus on a better integration of marginalised and disadvantaged groups on the labour market. This relates in particular to young people with low educational attainment, people with a migrant background, people with reduced work capacity and disabilities.
Recital 11: Comprehensive reforms aiming at fostering labour market participation could bring about better opportunities in the labour market for some groups. This concerns people with a migrant background, women at childbearing age, low-skilled men, people partially able to work and persons with disabilities.
Recital 13: Investments should focus on enhancing access to inclusive, affordable and high quality social services, as well as on developing day-care centres. Supporting the most deprived and promoting the social integration of children at risk of poverty, of persons with disabilities, of migrants and refugees, while paying attention to geographic disparities would improve social inclusion in Greece.
Recital 9: Labour market outcomes for various vulnerable groups, including Roma and people with disabilities, are weak.
Recital 13: The participation rate of people with disabilities in the labour market is among the lowest in Europe.
Recital 14: More home and community-based care and long-term care is key to provide support to people with disabilities and other disadvantaged groups.
Recital 11: The adequacy of social benefits remains low and the impact of social transfers on poverty and inequality reduction is limited. The poverty risk among the elderly and the people with disabilities is relatively high and increasing due to benefits not keeping pace with wage growth. The at-risk-of-poverty or social exclusion rate for the elderly was 49.0% in 2018 (European Union average: 18.2% in 2017) and for the disabled people with disabilities 40.7% in 2017, (European Union average: 29.3% in 2017). The state social security benefit for people with disabilities and minimum old-age pensions, have not been revised since 2006.
Recommendation 2: Address social exclusion notably by improving the adequacy of minimum income benefits, minimum old-age pensions and income support for people with disabilities.
Recital 10: The high proportion of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion, together with high income inequality, remain major challenges for Lithuania that hinder its prospects for inclusive economic growth. Despite continued economic growth, many members of Lithuanian society (e.g. the elderly, people with disabilities, children, single-parent households and the unemployed) face a particularly high risk of poverty and social exclusion.
Recital 11: The Lithuanian economy has potential to benefit from investment in skills upgrading, including digital skills, innovation and better integration of the disadvantaged into the labour market (for example persons with disabilities, and older, unemployed or inactive adults). In a broader context, strengthening the capacity of the social partners is important to foster their engagement.
Recital 13: The employment rate in Malta, now above EU average, is still increasing. A special emphasis in this regard could benefit people with disabilities.
Recital 13: The self-employed are more often under-insured against disability, unemployment and old age, which could affect the sustainability of the social security system in the long run.
Recital 11: However, the participation of some groups in the labour force, especially the low-skilled, persons with disabilities and their carers and older people, has remained low in comparison to other Member States. The Polish social benefit system provides insufficient incentives to take up work.
Recital 15: One in three Romanians is still at risk of poverty and social exclusion, with particular groups such as children, the Roma, people with disabilities and the elderly being more affected. Social services have insufficient quality and coverage, and uneven geographical distribution, not correlated with communities’ specific needs […] People with disabilities are given only limited support for independent living and accessing employment.
Recital 14: Other bottlenecks concern access for disadvantaged groups, in particular for Roma, as well as people with disabilities and people that suffer from homelessness and housing exclusion, to healthcare, long-term care, social housing and other essential services. An integrated approach is essential in order to foster social inclusion for these groups.
Recital 10: In the document “Starting points for the modernisation of the Pension and Disability Insurance System”, adopted in 2017 by the Economic and Social Council, it was foreseen by the social partners and the previous government to adopt a reform by 2020 and the national reform programme 2019-2020 mentions the possibility of an overhaul of the pension system to support the medium to long-term sustainability of the system and appropriate levels of pensions.