1 End poverty in all its forms everywhere
The European Social Charter, the human rights treaty on social and economic rights, guarantees the right to be protected against poverty and social exclusion through its Article 30, as it is considered that living in a situation of poverty and social exclusion violates the dignity of human beings. Article 30 of the Charter is the first binding human rights provision in Europe for the protection against poverty and social exclusion. The primary obligation for States Parties under Article 30 of the Charter is the adoption of a comprehensive and co-ordinated approach which explicitly aims at combating poverty and social exclusion by adopting measures aimed at preventing and removing obstacles to access to fundamental social rights, in particular employment, housing, training, education, culture and social and medical assistance.
The European Committee of Social Rights (ESCR) monitors the implementation of the Charter, not only in law, but also in practice.
In light of this approach, assessments of situations under Article 30, as for other substantial provisions of the Charter, are based on this human rights approach, which has been reaffirmed by the Guiding Principles on extreme poverty and human rights (submitted by the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona, and adopted by the United Nations Human Rights Council on 27 September 2012) and which has consistently been applied by the ECSR. In particular, the ECSR has interpreted the scope of Article 30 of the Charter as relating both to protection against poverty (understood as involving situations of social precarity) and protection against social exclusion (understood as involving obstacles to inclusion and citizen participation) in an autonomous manner or in combination with other connecting provisions of the Charter.
Furthermore, the ECSR emphasises the very close link between the effectiveness of the right recognised by Article 30 of the Charter and the enjoyment of the rights recognised by other provisions, such as the right to work (Article 1), access to health care (Article 11), social security allowances (Article 12), social and medical assistance (Article 13), the benefit from social welfare services (Article 14), the rights of persons with disabilities (Article 15), the social, legal and economic protection of the family (Article 16) as well as of children and young persons (Article 17), the right to equal opportunities and equal treatment in employment and occupation without sex discrimination (Article 20), the rights of the elderly (Article 23) or the right to housing (Article 31), without forgetting the important impact of the non-discrimination clause (Article E) which obviously includes non-discrimination on grounds of poverty.
Recommendation CM/Rec(2015)3 of the Committee of Ministers to member States on the access of young people from disadvantaged neighbourhoods to social rights recommends measures to member States to prevent and eradicate the poverty, discrimination, violence and exclusion faced by young people. A human-rights based approach is the basis for the social and youth work interventions being implemented in co-operation with local authorities and youth organisations. The recommendation is available in English, French, Czech, Dutch, Georgian, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Slovak, Spanish and Turkish.
With regard to ending poverty, the Parliamentary Assembly adopted Resolution 2197 (2018) on The case for a basic citizenship income. The Assembly promoted further ratifications and effective implementation of the European Social Charter through Resolution 2180 (2017) and Recommendation 2112 (2017) on The “Turin process: reinforcing social rights in Europe". It also referred to this most comprehensive social rights standard in a recent text relating to poverty explicitly, namely Resolution 1995 (2014) on Ending child poverty in Europe. A further report is currently (Jan. 2021) being prepared on “Eradicating extreme child poverty in Europe: an international obligation and a moral duty” by the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development.
The report of European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, Combating child poverty: an issue of fundamental rights, underlines how combating child poverty is also a matter of realising their fundamental rights. It suggests that the EU and its Member States should tighten existing laws and policies to meet legal standards under the UN’s Child Rights Convention and the European Social Charter. This would enable them to tackle child poverty better.
The Report ‘Protecting the Child from Poverty: The Role of Rights in the Council of Europe’, which was presented at the International Conference on Children’s Rights on 13 November 2019, focuses on the role of children’s rights in addressing child poverty in the Council of Europe. Both, the 1961 European Social Charter and the Revised Charter of 1996 set out a wide range of rights with implications for state efforts to combat child poverty. These include Article 30 on the right to protection from poverty and social exclusion – the only provision under international human rights law that explicitly outlines a right to protection from poverty, but also other child poverty relevant provisions relating to the right to work, the right to protection of health, the right to social security, the right to social and medical assistance, the right to social, legal and economic protection of the family as well as of children and young persons, etc.
In a Declaration adopted on 11 December 2019, the Committee of Ministers expressed concern about the very high rates of child poverty in Europe and the growing inequalities that particularly affect them. The Committee of Ministers called on member states to: implement the Council of Europe Strategy for the Rights of the Child (2016-2021); review the objectives and funding of services such as child protection, education, social services and social protection programmes; improve child protection services, taking into account particularly vulnerable situations (e.g. children without parental care, single-parent families, children with disabilities, Roma children, and refugee and migrant children); to take into account the needs of children and encourage their participation in the development of child protection policies.
In its Conclusions 2019, the European Committee of Social Rights highlighted the issue of child poverty under Article 17 of the European Social Charter. The Committee pointed out that the prevalence of child poverty in a State Party, whether defined or measured in either monetary or multidimensional terms, is an important indicator of the effectiveness of state efforts to ensure the right of children and young persons to social, legal and economic protection. The obligation of States Parties to take all appropriate and necessary measures to ensure that children and young persons have the assistance they need is strongly linked to measures directed towards the amelioration and eradication of child poverty and social exclusion. Therefore, the Committee will take child poverty levels into account when considering the state’s obligations in terms of Article 17 of the Charter.
The Committee asked that the next national reports on the implementation of Article 17 of the ESC provide information on the measures adopted to reduce child poverty, including non-monetary measures such as ensuring access to quality and affordable services in the areas of health, education, housing etc. Information should also be provided on measures focused on combatting discrimination against and promoting equal opportunities for children from particularly vulnerable groups such as ethnic minorities, Roma children, children with disabilities, and children in care. States Parties should also make clear the extent to which child participation is ensured in work directed towards combatting child poverty and social exclusion.
Regarding the detection of child labour and illegally working children (Article 7 of the Charter), the Committee noted that many states’ legislation is in conformity with the Charter regarding the minimum age for employment. Nevertheless, the Committee is concerned about the situation in practice. There is data that suggests that in many countries there is a significant number of children working illegally. However, there is little official data on the extent of the problem. Therefore, in its Conclusions 2019, the Committee requested all states to provide information on the measures taken by the authorities (e.g. Labour Inspectorates and social services) to detect child labour, including children working in the informal economy. In this regard, the Committee asked all states to provide information on the number of children actually working (either from existing statistics on this issue or from surveys to be conducted to obtain such information), as well as on measures taken to identify and monitor sectors where it is strongly suspected that children are working illegally.
The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities adopted the following texts of relevance:
- Resolution 391 (2015) on ’’Fighting the increasing poverty of women: the responsibility of local and regional authorities’’;
- REC381(2015): Fighting the increasing poverty of women: the responsibility of local and regional authorities;
- Resolution 229 (2007) on ’’The evolution of extreme poverty in European towns’’;
- REC(2007)210: The evolution of extreme poverty in European towns.
The work of the Commissioner for Human Rights concerning poverty has focused on addressing the long-term effects of austerity measures on human rights and ensuring that national and regional authorities uphold human rights protection, particularly of those groups of people disproportionately hit as a result of those measures. In the Issue Paper ‘Safeguarding human rights in times of economic crisis’ (2013), the Commissioner issued actionable recommendations which help forge a new path along which governments can align their economic recovery policies with their commitments for human rights. Poverty is also addressed in the Commissioner’s work on the inclusion and equality of disadvantaged groups of people..
See the Commissioner’s thematic webpage ‘Economic crisis and human rights’
See in particular:
Human Rights Comments:
- ‘Keeping the promise: Ending poverty and inequality’
- ‘Preserving Europe's social model’
- ‘Maintain universal access to healthcare’
- ‘Protect women’s rights during the crisis’
- ‘Youth human rights at risk during the crisis’
- ‘National Human Rights Structures can help mitigate the effects of austerity measures’
- ‘Austerity budgets tend to victimise the most vulnerable’
- Without papers but not without rights: the basic social rights of irregular migrants
- The right to affordable housing: Europe’s neglected duty’