Europe’s recovery must be social

30 September 2020

The living standards of Europeans are deteriorating, most especially in our cities. Across Europe, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing inequalities, making vulnerable people even more so and creating new groups of ‘urban poor’.

These are among the top deliberations in a new position paper from Eurocities, which feeds into wider discussions on Social Europe, and makes 15 recommendations to EU and national leaders on how we can face the current unprecedented set of challenges and drive an inclusive recovery.

According to the network, “Job losses are estimated to be higher in large cities than elsewhere” and “poverty is rapidly rising in cities” with more people at risk of having “financial difficulties due to job loss and income drops” or even losing their home.

Since the pandemic has hit, cities have not only stepped up their social welfare protections, but are finding more people, such as “undocumented migrants, who had been active in the informal economy, are now coming forward to ask for help.” In many cases, cities are now additionally focussed on delivering food aid and basic material assistance to the most in need.

While cities have stepped up in an unprecedented way, claims the paper, their fast and immediate responses to ensure people do not fall through the gaps, and to mitigate the worst socioeconomic effects of Europe’s economic downturn, need to be supported over the long term. Right now, many cities are facing budget shortfalls, and it’s clear that cities cannot act alone – with this in mind, the network has three key messages:

  • Cities should be engaged as key partners in driving a fair and inclusive recovery in Europe
  • Social investment should be strengthened as a key priority for a fair and inclusive recovery
  • A new pact between city and EU leaders should be set up to drive social Europe forward

Ensuring that greater emphasis is placed on social investment should be evident, not only from the current increased demand on healthcare and other essential services, but from the learnings of the 2008-09 financial crisis that led to years of underinvestment at local level. The EU recovery plan, says the network, must boost investment in local social services, which are essential for social cohesion.

This would include supporting cities’ efforts financially, including through the ReactEU and European Social Fund+, with a clear emphasis on channelling the funding to where most people live, in our cities, which has not been the case to date.

The network encourages national and European level leadership to take up the motto to ‘build back better’. “This means putting social policy high on the EU agenda for recovery, alongside the goals for climate neutrality and digital transformation, and giving cities the means to address poverty and inequalities.” Indeed, there are many examples from cities, shared in the paper of new socioeconomic models that are designed to put people first.

The network also emphasises the need for long term solutions, which work through the place-based problematic of poverty via an EU anti-poverty framework that would allow for the development of ‘local pacts’, alongside local derivations on child guarantee schemes and new ways to unlock cities’ potential in driving quality jobs and skills training. The housing crisis has also been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic – and is now reaching middle income earners, according to the network.

It’s clear the current health crisis will be with us for some time, and as the EU considers how to construct social policy over the coming years and to link it with the next EU budget cycle, what better time to act than now.

Read the full paper here to learn more: A stronger social Europe powered by inclusive cities


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