Joint Workshop on Family as a hub for social policies
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Ladies and gentlemen,
I begin by thanking you, Ms Bonetti, not only for the insights that you have just provided but also for the Italian government’s central role in organising this important event and the fourth annual meeting of the European Social Cohesion Platform.
At a time of uncertainty, fracture and strain in Europe, it is all the more important that countries work together to shape more cohesive and inclusive societies.
The role of the family is central to this.
Families have always come in different shapes and sizes, but it is fair to say that in today’s world, the diversity of family life has increased.
One parent families and two parent families; parents and step-parents; single-sex parents and mixed-sex parents – and so on, and so forth.
The strength and stability of these families varies in light of many different factors.
But what is certain is that the circumstances into which we born and the way in which we are raised have an enormous impact on the life that we will go on to live –
Our health, our education, our professional prospects.
The implications of this are real both for the individual and for society.
So it is in everyone’s interests that families have the opportunity to be strong, supportive units in which every member can flourish.
Seventy years ago, the Statute of the Council of Europe was signed in London.
It declared that the aim of our Organisation is to achieve greater unity between its member states for the purpose, in part, of facilitating their economic and social progress.
To achieve this goal, the Council of Europe bases its work on the human rights set out in its two major legal instruments: the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Social Charter.
Both are relevant to our subject today, but the Social Charter is of particular importance here.
It guarantees Europeans the opportunity of a decent and dignified life with the right to housing, health care, education, work…and family life.
The European Convention and the Social Charter have been followed by a range of conventions, recommendations and initiatives that apply our human rights to specific challenges.
This is true for the subject of each of the four sessions that you will hold at this Joint Workshop.
Let me provide some short examples.
When it comes to work-life balance and company welfare, the Social Charter is of direct relevance.
It makes clear that all workers have the rights to just, safe and healthy working conditions; to equal opportunities and equal treatment; and to the fair pay that is required for a decent standard of living.
Specifically, Article 2 guarantees employees the rights to reasonable limits on working hours; to weekly rest periods; and to paid annual and public holidays.
This about ensuring that people have the income, the security and the time required to look after themselves and their dependents.
And this is surely one of the factors underlying the theme of today’s second session: family measures to promote the increase in the birth rate in Europe.
It is not of course for the Council of Europe to tell people how many children they should have.
But it is right to ensure the social conditions in which people feel able to have and support children.
This is particularly important at a time when many European countries have a low birth rate and an ageing population.
Here too, the Social Charter is important, protecting the rights of workers with family responsibilities.
Article 8 stipulates the right to paid maternity leave of at least 14 weeks, guaranteed by law.
During that leave, the individual must continue to receive their salary, or social security benefits or benefits from public funds.
And it must be unlawful to dismiss an employee from the time that she notifies her employer that she is pregnant until the end of her maternity leave.
The Charter is also clear that States Parties must provide the possibility for either parent to have parental leave and to develop and promote child day care services and other childcare arrangements, making them available and accessible to those with family responsibilities.
National governments are of course free to go further still.
But these measures are designed to create the flexibility and affordability that makes parenting easier in today’s world.
Aside from the Social Charter, the Council of Europe has taken a range of actions to tackle the heart-breaking reality of children witnessing violence.
Regarding the children themselves, our Committee of Ministers has issued a recommendation to member states to promote positive, non-violent parenting.
And it has produced another calling for the adaptation of social services to the specific needs and interests of children, ensuring the protection of children from all forms of neglect, abuse, violence and exploitation.
This should be done by preventive measure and direct interventions, and based on the best interests of the child –
A principle that also inspires our current,
cross-departmental work on situations involving parental separation and child-care proceedings, which aims to shield children from the negative impact of parental conflict.
In addition, our Lanzarote Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Abuse asks States Parties to take measures that tackle such crime, especially within the child’s immediate environment or “circle of trust”.
Equally, it is vital to ensure that parents are not subject to violence – whether children witness it or not.
For this, our Istanbul Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence is particularly relevant.
The most important, legal treaty in this area, it takes a holistic approach, requiring action for the prevention of crime, the protection of victims and the prosecution of perpetrators.
This involves reconceptualising such violence – understanding that is not a private matter, but a serious crime for which there should be no impunity.
Lastly, I know that you will address tomorrow the challenge of eradicating child poverty.
This noble and important aim is also a key part of the Council of Europe’s current Strategy for the Rights of the Child, which runs until 2021.
The Strategy guides member states to follow up on the conclusions and decisions of the European Committee of Social Rights and to fulfil the Committee of Ministers recommendation on the access of young people from disadvantaged neighbourhoods to social rights.
In many European countries, inequality is rising, and child poverty remains stubbornly high, sometimes as a consequence of austerity policies.
So the time for action is now.
Ladies and gentlemen, these are just some of the activities that my Organisation has undertaken - but problems remain.
That is why we are here today.
Our member states can do more to support the family, and I would urge them all to make use of the tools at their disposal - ratification of the Social Charter and the Istanbul Convention, for example.
In this respect I am very happy to say that our Committee of Ministers is currently considering additional measures to improve the protection of social rights in Europe.
But I think we all know this alone is not enough.
We need a greater understanding of the problems faced by modern families, and the ways in which these can be tackled.
This involves learning from one another’s experience and coming together to produce new ideas too.
I hope that this Conference will provide the opportunity to do that, and I look forward to the debate.