A social agenda that delivers for people

16 February 2024

Across Europe, many people in cities are facing significant daily challenges, including access to affordable housing and essential public services, securing a job that offers a decent salary, paying energy bills and putting healthy food on the table.

These challenges have been made worse by the rise in the cost of living, putting more middle-income households at risk of poverty and vulnerable groups at risk of social exclusion.

In additon, several cities are dealing with ageing populations, rising homelessness and issues concerning the availability and affordability of early child education and care.

Social rights, leading the way

As confirmed by the 2023 Eurocities Pulse Mayors Survey, fighting inequalities in urban areas and implementing an economic recovery that works for everyone are priorities for the mayors of Europe.

City governments recognise that human rights are a key part of the foundation for a united Europe, and they are committed to increasing efforts for a fairer and sustainable future. Ensuring the provision of basic needs, protecting essential services and integrating vulnerable groups in decision-making processes is vital to moving forward without leaving anyone behind.

Cities strive to ensure people’s rights when delivering public services, both in-person and online, including providing affordable and social housing, investing in jobs and skills, and offering safety, security and inclusion for migrants, refugees and people in need of international protection. They also promote public health and well-being, access to food, and as inclusive cultural policies.

Given the multitude of social and economic challenges that arise at the local level, city governments need to be involved in preventing their negative impact.

However, if local governments are truly to protect the social rights of their citizens, and make essential changes that will improve the lives of millions of local people, they need the support of the European institutions and EU policies.

A better EU

As outlined in the Eurocities manifesto ‘A better Europe starts in cities,’ local governments are calling on the EU to increase the ambition of the European Pillar of Social Rights. With the European elections just a few months away, cities state that the Pillar must be made a powerful tool for the just transition across all of the EU’s strategic priorities, while protecting people’s social rights in the green and digital transformation.

However, this cannot be done without involving local authorities and ensuring collaboration across all levels of government. This will clarify responsibilities and reinforce delivery, while also recognising the increased pressure on essential social services generated by multiple crises.

Everyone deserves a roof over their heads

Recent crises have deepened existing inequalities. Across Europe, poverty remains a significant urban challenge. Many people are at risk of experiencing homelessness, a situation exacerbated by the housing crisis present in many cities across Europe.

In this concerning situation, ensuring the provision of affordable and social housing must be a top priority at EU level, alongside investment in jobs and skills and offering safety, security and inclusion for vulnerable groups, including refugees and people in need of international protection.

Local municipalities call for ambitious action at all governmental levels to jointly work towards ending homelessness by 2030, including increased support from the European Platform on Combatting Homelessness and greater emphasis on tackling homelessness in national and local strategies.

The EU should boost available funding for city governments, particularly the European Social Fund and the European Regional Development Fund, and they must take action to combat increasing youth homelessness across Europe.

This includes a youth-focused approach in EU strategies and the development of integrated systems that address the leading causes of homelessness among young people and prioritise groups most at risk.

Inclusive care and opportunities for all

Cities have made it clear that the European Care Strategy, launched in September 2022, has the potential to tackle health inequalities for people of all ages. It aims to ensure quality, affordable and accessible care services and improve the situation for both carers and receivers.

The strategy can help cities to navigate the increasing demands on local services when it comes to childcare and long-term care. Participation in early childhood education has a positive impact on a child’s development and helps reduce the risk of social exclusion and poverty, also later in life.

Long-term care empowers people, who because of old age, illness or disability depend on help for daily activities, to maintain their autonomy and live with dignity.

For cities, the European Child Guarantee is also a landmark initiative that aims to address and mitigate child poverty and social exclusion within the EU. Its goal is that every child in the EU can thrive and develop to their full potential, irrespective of their socio-economic background. Enshrined in the European Pillar of Social Rights, this guarantee reaffirms the commitment of the EU to protect the well-being of its youngest citizens.

As local authorities play a crucial role in delivering services to vulnerable children, they must have a key role in the implementation of the guarantee. They provide education, health, housing and social services to all children in need and are at the forefront of the fight against child poverty and break the cycle of intergenerational poverty.

The future can be bright

The labour market is gradually transforming into a new green and digital world. Future jobs are likely to be based in urban environments, and municipalities are a level of government that will give people new skills and training, and develop care strategies for those in need.

Given the crucial role of digital skills for employment and social inclusion, cities urge national governments and the EU to ensure that digital skills education begins early, to promote digital inclusion for all.

To achieve this, schools should also have the appropriate equipment, and teachers must have better access to training. Similarly, the digital gap should be reduced by ensuring connectivity in the poorest local neighbourhoods, including the provision of free Wi-Fi.

EU institutions should ensure that programmes related to digital skills, education and training are available and implemented, the digital gap is reduced, and the creation of new jobs is prioritised, with working conditions improved across Europe.

In addition to all the challenges mentioned above, the gender employment gap is still a pending issue worldwide. The EU should enhance measures that support gender equality at work and in all spheres of life.

Cities are key allies of the EU

In conclusion, given the multitude of social and economic challenges that continue to arise at the local level, cities need to be involved in preventing and mitigating their negative impact.

Local governments are determined to build more inclusive urban environments based on fairness, equality and inclusivity, and with that goal, they are key allies of the European Commission in promoting the European Pillar of Social Rights.

To date, 56 European municipalities have pledged to uphold the principles of this pillar via Eurocities’ Inclusive Cities For All political initiative. This demonstrates their joint efforts with diverse partners and all levels of government to improve the lives of their populations.

With the European elections fast approaching, cities call on the EU to recognise their importance in drafting and implementing new social policy strategies that contribute to a better Europe. Cities are key EU allies in ensuring nobody is left behind.


Marta Buces Eurocities Writer
Andrew Kennedy Eurocities Writer