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COFACE joined the discussion on the impact of austerity on human rights

On the 10th of April COFACE Families Europe joined the CoE-FRA-ENNHRI-EQUINET Collaborative Platform on Social and Economic Rights discussion on how the financial crisis and austerity measures impacted human rights and equality in Europe, and recommended policy tools to counter the negative impact of austerity measures on vulnerable families and their members.
The Platform on social and economic rights was launched in 2015 by the Council of Europe (CoE), the European Union Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA), the European Network of National Human Rights Institutions (ENNHRI) and the European Network of Equality Bodies (EQUINET). Its main objective is to contribute to finding responses to fundamental rights challenges in Europe by ensuring a greater use of the relevant human rights norms, in particular the European Social Charter, the Council of Europe treaty that guarantees fundamental social and economic rights, and by promoting a wider use of the collective complaints procedure to the Committee of Social Rights.

The 8th meeting of the Platform aimed at identifying the implications of austerity measures for equality and human rights and discussing possible responses and was held, not by chance, in Athens. Participants presented how austerity measures impacted the enjoyment of human rights of the most vulnerable sectors of the population, including children, women, and persons with disabilities in their respective countries, with a special attention to Greece. They underlined that the lack of decent housing, employment, and services does not only violate social rights, but also undermines people integrity, the social foundations of the European Union, and democracy itself.

The COFACE presentation looked into policy, showing the effect of austerity on child poverty, influenced also by the social protection systems of the different European countries, where those with a stronger tradition of comprehensive support and gender equality had a general better economic performance and inferior rates of child poverty. Addressing child poverty means supporting families through income, resources and time, and this requires strong labour policies to facilitate the parents’ participation in work, work-life balance, measures to supplement household income, and access to quality social services. These measures are part of EU soft and hard law – a comprehensive approach at Member State level is still missing.

The platform members then recalled the actions took to point at the link between austerity policies and loss of social rights, including open letters, reports, and collective complaints to human right courts. However, the decisions of the Committee of Social Rights can be ignored by national courts, and the statement of human right bodies are not shaping the national, nor the European political agenda. A need for better data collection, networking and communication from this sector to the rest of society was highlighted as a priority for the future. Also, a possible game changer have been presented by the UN expert Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky: guiding principles for human rights impact assessments for economic reform policies. If these principles would be a mandatory step for states in the formulation of their social policies, with consequences in case of violations, this could prevent the most vulnerable to pay the price of financial and economic crises.