Highlights from Social Affairs Forum

5 November 2019

The EUROCITIES Social Affairs Forum met in Warsaw on 22-24 October 2019 to discuss the topic of ‘Inclusive cities: Ensuring social inclusion & well-being for all ages’. The first paper free forum meeting had a great attendance of 150 participants, from 50 cities including 15 politicians and representatives of European Commission, European Investment Bank, UNICEF, EUROCHILD and beneficiaries of Warsaw’s ESF projects. The two-days meeting offered the opportunity to identify what works to improve the quality of life of the age groups most at risk of exclusion and hardest hit by increasing inequality – children, young people and the elderly.

The main focus of the event was on the role of cities in implementing the European Pillar of Social Rights principles 11 childcare and support to children, 16 healthcare and 18 long-term care. The participants had the chance to learn directly from Warsaw about the lessons learnt from the ESF-funded projects.

In the opening remarks Pawel Rabiej, the deputy mayor of Warsaw has highlighted the complex challenges that people face at local level. Inequalities are taking different forms like working poor, the accessibility of to essential public services for all ages, unaffordable housing, digital exclusion. He mentioned that ‘Post 1945 generation own houses but younger generation cannot afford. Cities alone cannot solve this economic shift but they can offer affordable housing and can alleviate the problem’.

Maarten von Ooijen, the deputy mayor of Utrecht and vice-chair of SAF has strengthen the importance of working together ‘to share what we do well, our best practices, but we also need to talk about what did not work. All the things you tried and did not fit the solution’. He highlighted the importance of showing the commitment of cities to implement the European Pillar of Social Rights at local level and the importance of working with the new European Commission to improve the quality of life for all people of all ages in Europe.

Live debate with beneficiaries of ESF projects in Warsaw

Two beneficiaries of ESF-funded projects in Warsaw have shared their life stories, the projects in which they have been involved and the impact that these had on their life. Zosia Załęska is the 17 years old beneficiary of ‘Support to start’ project, which is passionate about art and fashion, with the dream of becoming a lawyer or a judge. The project taught her ‘things that we do not learn at school like the different types of companies, how to fill-in taxes, how to manage a company’. Beside these learnings, the project helped her also to better manage the stress. Adam Borowicz, beneficiary of ‘City Digital Education’ project, was born in 1951, he has a great interest in computer sciences and space exploration. He mentioned that ‘when I retired, I started to be bored. I missed interesting activities and contact with people. I started looking for new ways of spending my free time’. During the project he had the chances to attend workshops to develop skills to work with computers, mobile, internet and social media. He has also learnt to design posters, websites, publishing and editing texts. Now he is writing articles on what are the age-friendly applications that people can use and he writing books devoted to new technologies and the digital aspects of contemporary life.

When asked about the recommendations that they have made to cities Zosia said that projects should be better promoted, that cities should listen more to young people and to their needs and that we should “make learning fun. Learning is fun”. Adam has made the following remarks on how cities could be age-friendly and how they should make a more attractive life for citizens, especially elderly and young people: Increase the number of places where people of different ages can spend time together, provide free assistance on digital technologies, support the activity of NGOs and create more outdoor gyms in public places.

Announcement of new city pledges ‘Inclusivecities4all: Social Rights in My City’

Building on our political initiative ‘Inclusive Cities for All: Social Rights in My City’, launched in the European Parliament early this year, this moment has marked the announcement of the new city pledges to implement the principles of the EU Pillar of Social Rights at local level. 11 new cities have committed to invest in concrete measures to realise social rights for people on the following principles:

1 Bologna – principle 2 on gender equality and principle 19 on housing and assistance for the homeless
2 Ljubljana – principle 17 on inclusion of people with disabilities
3 Poznan – principle 19 on housing and assistance for the homeless
4 Nantes – principle 2 on gender equality
5 Hamburg – principle 11 on childcare and support to children and principle 19 on housing and assistance for the homeless
6 Birmingham – principle 19 on housing and assistance for the homeless
7 Utrecht – principle 16 on health care
8 Warsaw – principle 18 on long-term care
9 Amsterdam – principle 1 on education, training and life-long learning
10 Zagreb – principle 3 on equal opportunities and principle 16 health care
11 Vienna – principle 19 on housing and assistance for the homeless and principle 11 on childcare and support to children

So far 32 city pledges, representing over €5bn in financial investments prove cities commitment to turn the principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights into tangible actions to improve people’s lives on the ground. Five of the 11 new city pledges were made on housing and assistance for the homeless – highlighting an urgent need of affordable housing in our cities. All the city pledges can be found here. The press release can be found here.

Creation of EUROCITIES transversal working group on children
SAF Warsaw has represented also a milestone for EUROCITIES work on children policies. Ms. Fiona Venner, councillor from Leeds, has made the official announcement of the creation of the working group on children within EUROCITIES, approved by the Executive Committee in September 2019. Leeds has also presented their pledge to principle 11 on childcare and support to children. As a city with a strong commitment to put children at the heat of city’s economic growth strategy, Leeds will chair the activity of the working group.

Announcement of our new website –

During the session we have launched the new website ‘’ which will host all the information on our political initiative ‘Inclusive Cities for All: Social Rights in My City’. It will gather the city pledges, the mutual learning that use our critical friend review and policy transfer methodologies and collection of data – the reports on the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights at local level.

Launch of new publication ‘Cities delivering social rights – Early childhood education and child welfare in cities’

The report is the second in a series of EUROCITIES surveys to collect evidence from cities in line with the principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights. The report covers 23 cities in 15 EU member states governing over 17 million people. The information was gathered directly from city authorities and their relevant administrative departments. The responses fed into a comparative analysis to identify trends and map inspiring practices. It presents the findings on how cities deliver early childhood education and care and tackle child poverty, in line with principle 11 of the European Pillar of Social Rights providing an overview of city competences, trends and current social challenges at local level, good practices from city measures, obstacles that prevent cities from doing more or implementing better policies, and policy recommendations for cities, member states and the EU. You can find the full report here.

EUROCITIES vision on the future of social Europe
Maarten von Ooijen, the deputy mayor of Utrecht and vice-chair of SAF has presented how cities see the future of a Social Europe. He has highlighted that European cities face critical social challenges due to key social and economic mega trend like demographic change, digitalisation and robotisation, environmental crisis, new business models. Also, Europe’s ambition to become the first climate-neutral continent must ensure a fair transition for people.
The main recommendations have shown that a Social Europe is built together with cities by:

  • supporting cities to take an active role in the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights by including local authorities in designing and monitoring relevant policies.
  • contributing to a more territorially aware European semester process by strengthening the local perspective and cities involvement in the process.
  • ensuring social sustainability for a cohesive Europe, through a strong social investment reflected in ESF+ and InvestEU.
  • ensuring better access to funding for cities and make use of emerging opportunities to fund social inclusion measures.
  • assisting cities in making use of these funding opportunities and in integrating other grants and financial instruments to support social inclusion and social infrastructure investments.
    • working towards a stronger partnership with city authorities empowering them to shape operational programme priorities based on evidenced local development needs.

A diverse Europe with equal opportunities for all people, through an inclusion approach in the principles and rights adopted in the EU legislation, by:
– connecting social and employment policies and services to provide access to inclusive labour market, decent wages, high skill levels and opportunities for re-training, up-skilling and career transition;
– creating opportunities to fully participate in society with equitable access to affordable housing childcare, education, healthcare and social services;
– boosting social innovations where new technologies are used to foster social and digital inclusion, improve access and quality of services, and engage people in society;
– ensuring equal access to social rights by all, including the most vulnerable groups such as ethnic minorities like Roma, migrants, long-term unemployed, people with physical and mental disabilities, older people and young people, while taking into consideration the gender dimension of social and economic inequality across all groups

Jiri Svarc, Head of Social Investment Strategy, DG EMPL has explained the ambition of the new European Commission presented in the political guidelines of the President Ursula von der Leyen to put forward an action plan for implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights. To design the new action plan there will be a series of consultation with stakeholders, in which the city pledges presented in the political initiative ‘Inclusive Cities for All: Social Rights in My City’ will be an important input.

Piotr Michalowski, Head of Warsaw Office, European Investment Bank has presented how lack of affordable housing and lack of sustainable infrastructure are addressed by the EIB which provides loans at a very competitive rate. He has emphasised that EIB has an advisory board for free guidance for the public sector. He has also explained how the new financial instrument – InvestEU will allow to take more risk by not taking into account indebtedness level for the municipal companies.

Pamela Dale, Senior Policy Advisor at UNICEF explained how important is to have children at the centre of vision for Europe. She said that “city actions to address child poverty are essential”. Ms. Dale mentioned that there is a need to pay more attention to the transition from adolescence to young adulthood into work environment which will require new skills for the coming economy. An important approach to combat raising inequalities is the equal access to high quality early childcare and education for vulnerable groups. Otherwise, children coming from disadvantaged background will enter primary school with extra disadvantage and the gap will become wider in time. All these challenges are addressed best at local level.

Julien Van Geertsom from EUROCHILD has called for EU to allocate budget for the implementation of European Pillar of Social Rights and especially for the new Child Guarantee. He has highlighted that the poverty target for EU 2020 was not reached, so in order to move to EU 2030 strategy we need to evaluate what did not work so far. He mentioned that “Europe needs a swift in paradigm – in time of austerity we should investment especially in people”. Participation should stay at the core of policies in EU, y involving citizens, including children. He has also highlighted that “We should not see the European Commission as the enemy. We now have the momentum to work with the EC”.

Rafał Trzaskowski, Chairman of the Council of Foundation of the Union of Polish Metropolises and Mayor of Warsaw has highlighted that Warsaw, as all the big cities in Europe has as main priorities the social inclusion, the education for the young people and provide affordable housing. The mayor of Warsaw said that the time when “countries would control everything is long gone. Networks like EUROCITIES are extremely effective”. He called for a strong partnership with the European Institutions to empowere the human capital by creating possibilities for women to realize their dream both professionally and personally, by investing in children through free education, by providing help at home and healthcare for elderly, building assisted apartment for senior citizens and providing socializing activities for seniors (paintings, digital activities etc.), by investing in spaces and centres to connect to the whole neighbourhood, by revitalizing the areas through infrastructures and heating solution and by financing NGOs and engaging citizens.

Co-creation workshops

Participants have worked together to co-design possible solutions to the following real cases of complex social challenges:
1. Barcelona – How can NGOs, investors, financial entities, social housing associations/cooperatives and other stakeholders be involved in the provision and management of age-friendly affordable residence services for elderly and young people?
2. Birmingham – How can we reduce the number of families with young children staying in temporary accommodation and specifically reduce the number of families staying in Bed & Breakfast type of accommodation?
3. Madrid – How can cities improve labour market access conditions for young adults and elderly people through job carving for emerging types of work?
4. Warsaw – How can we capitalize on the free-of-charge childcare (in nurseries) opportunities and overcome the associated threats?

The case study of city challenges have been presented, discussed and explored through situation-based group work. The workshop resulted in a set of actionable solutions that the representatives from the city could implement back home. You can find the reports of each workshop attached to the article.

Have a look at the video created by the city of Warsaw here: