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Franz Wolfmayr: “In 2015 EASPD will call for a change to the ‘growth at all costs’ approach”

2015 will be a very important year for the disability sector for several reasons. We have asked the EASPD President, Franz Wolfmayr, which are the main priorities for EASPD in 2015 and how concretely will bring these topics up at the European and International agendas.

 

Dear Mr. Wolfmayr, what are the political priorities for EASPD this year?
“Well, this year our priority will be to make sure that the new Commission and Parliament really do work towards accomplishing Juncker’s goal of achieving ‘triple-A’ social policies. That’s the key objective. So firstly, we will push for the EU to demonstrate increased dedication to the UN CRPD’s proper implementation. What’s been made abundantly clear over the past several years is that its implementation has been significantly hindered, in particular because of the cuts to public expenditure on social services and social security. We really have to focus on reversing this trend, not least, so that people with disabilities do receive full inclusion in society, and full access to their rights. And we’ll need the support of MEPs to ensure it happens. On top of that, we’ll be pushing for the EU and Member States to further recognise the important role social service providers play in Europe’s economy and communities. Our standpoint is that growth and jobs are only important insofar as they contribute to the wellbeing of all citizens, especially those most marginalised. It’s really essential that the European Union adopts this perspective when discussing growth. So the first step is to ensure that public authorities engage in efforts to guarantee excellence in social service provision. And then, finally, we’ll be doing our best to ensure policy-makers realise the great job-creation potential of the sector. They really are faced with a tremendous opportunity to create a wealth of jobs in Europe. Because of changing demographics like the ageing population, and rising inequalities, the demand for high quality social services just continues to increase. So we feel it’s absolutely vital that policy makers pro-actively strive to achieve the right balance of supply of services, which essentially requires the unlocking of millions of jobs in the sector over the next few decades; an exciting prospect. And it’s not just us advocating this view; the Social Protection Committee already endorses it. Now its up to the Parliament to put pressure on the Commission and the Council. We need European policy-makers to promote and support the development of social dialogue structures in the sector. With better social dialogue, we’ll be able to strengthen the sector’s ability to discuss and negotiate how to improve its appeal, in particular to the youth.”

 

This is all very good, but how will EASPD concretely bring these topics up?
“We aim to work with MEPs to generate support for activities that work towards achieving a triple-A for social justice. So we’ll be striving for increased exchange with several key committees, as well as the intergroups, and we hope this will allow us to better understand the objectives of Members of the Parliament and how we can support them in their work as policy-makers. And we’ll also look to work with the European Commission, making every effort to place issues of concern to us on their agenda, and responding to their consultations with important arguments and data. So for example, one such issue is the upcoming review of the Working Time directive, which will be a major priority for EASPD, and as a matter of fact, for all social service providers this year. The review’s objective to improve working conditions for staff is of utmost importance to the sector, but at the same time, it must be handled with care. It will have important implications for the cost of service provision, say for example, overnight care. So what we need to make sure of is that this doesn’t affect the quality and availability of services. Because if sustainable financing doesn’t increase in order to mitigate any rising costs in service provision, the effects on the quality and availability of services will inevitably be harsh, and could very much lead to re-institutionalisation. We’ll really be emphasising this message to the Commission, and hope to generate support for it in the European Parliament. But there are many other topics we wish to delve into. The rise in Personal and Household Services will be important, as well as the transition to community-based services, tackling the significant unemployment of persons with disabilities, developing inclusive education settings, improving working conditions in the sector, and many more. We’ll be looking at working on these topics both within our membership but also with other partners at European level and in particular with Social Services Europe and the Social Platform!"

 

You mention the need to tackle the significant exclusion of persons with disabilities from the labour market and work. Why is this important and what are you plans this year in this area?
“Well, our research indicates that the level of employment of persons with disabilities of working age is situated at around 20%. It goes without saying that this is totally unacceptable. So at EASPD, we’ve been developing a European Declaration on opening the labour market to persons with disabilities. We believe that the best way to do this is to reach out to all actors in society; so, from disabled people’s organisations, to civil society, policy makers, to trade unions as well as to industry. We believe that by doing this, we’ll be able to contribute to the development of accessible and inclusive labour market opportunities for people with disabilities. We’re going to present our declaration at our annual Conference in Zadar in Croatia, which will be happening on the 7th and 8th May, and its focus will fittingly be on how to increase the amount of persons with disabilities in employment. MEPs from Croatia, and from throughout the continent, are more than welcome to join. And in line with the Conference, we’re continuously gathering cases of best practice regarding the promotion of employment opportunities for persons with disabilities. We’ve been drawing examples from both businesses and employers, as well as employment support providers. And consequently we’ll be presenting an award in Zadar – we’re calling it the ‘Employment for All’ award – which we’ll be presenting to the applicant a selection of panellists believe is the best practice in terms of generating good employment opportunities  for people with disabilities.”

 

The European Commission is increasingly viewing its social policy through the lens of the European Semester. Do you plan to work on the European Semester?
“Absolutely. The European Semester is an extremely important policy process for us, which we generally support, but we nonetheless must call for some significant improvements. EASPD has actually just published a report on the 2014 European Semester process, which called for a change to the ‘growth at all costs’ approach, adopting a ‘growth for the wellbeing of all’ strategy instead. So we highlighted several ways the EU could improve its policies in order to achieve that strategy change. And we also presented and discussed a number of key policies that each and every Member State should consider if it is to successfully implement the UN CRPD. And finally, the report compiled contributions from our members in six different EU countries, which explained how each individual country is failing to adequately support the social services sector, as well as the work they do to enable persons with disabilities to gain access to their human rights. I would recommend all MEPs read this report and promote its messages and recommendations. I very much feel that if correctly organised and managed, the European Semester is an essential political tool through which we can actively contribute to improve national policies made aimed at our sector, and also ensure the implementation of the UN CRPD.”