Help Print this page 

Summaries of EU Legislation

Title and reference
Joint report on social inclusion

Summaries of EU legislation: direct access to the main summaries page.

This summary is archived.
Languages and formats available
HTML html ES html DA html DE html EL html EN html FR html IT html NL html PT html FI html SV
Multilingual display
Miscellaneous information
  • Archived: true

Joint report on social inclusion

As part of the Lisbon objective, which is to facilitate the eradication of poverty by 2010, the implementation of ambitious and effective policies on social inclusion is a priority for the European Union. The Member States firmly believe that economic modernisation must go hand in hand with promoting social cohesion and, in particular, with an open method of coordination designed to prevent and eradicate poverty and social exclusion. To this end, the new generation of national action plans for social inclusion aims to examine and strengthen the policies and strategies put in place at national level to promote the fight against poverty and social exclusion.


Communication from the Commission of 12 December 2003 concerning the joint report on social inclusion summarising the results of the examination of the National Action Plans for Social Inclusion (2003-2005) [COM(2003)773 - Not published in the official journal].


In order to encourage more ambitious and effective strategies to promote social inclusion, the report sets out the main trends and challenges associated with policies to combat poverty and social inclusion within the European Union. It also highlights the progress achieved in implementing the open method of coordination between the Member States and outlines the main priorities for action. This report served as the basis for the joint report by the Council and the Commission, which was adopted in March 2004.



The action taken by the European Union to promote social inclusion must be examined in light of the overall economic downturn which Europe has suffered for the past few years. This development, which has been associated with a slowdown in employment growth and an increase in unemployment, has hampered, but not stopped, the European Union in its efforts to achieve the employment objectives set out in Lisbon and Stockholm.

The years immediately preceding the introduction of the new social inclusion strategy have seen a reduction in relative poverty, which fell from 17% in 1995 to 15% in 2001. In all countries, the poverty threshold has risen faster than the rate of inflation, implying an increase in the overall level of prosperity. Between 1998 and 2001, the risk of poverty also fell across the board.

The present report nevertheless points out that, in 2001, more than 55 million people were still facing the risk of poverty, i.e. 15% of the European population. The groups most at risk were the unemployed, single parents, elderly people living alone and families with a large number of children.

The risk of poverty varies widely from one country to another, from 10% in Sweden to 21% in Ireland. In the countries in the south, and in the United Kingdom and Ireland, vulnerable members of the population generally benefit less from prosperity and are also more at risk from the most persistent forms of poverty and privation.

Moreover, long-term unemployment, which is closely linked to social exclusion, has a significant role to play. In 2002, it affected almost 3% of the working population (or 39% of the unemployed). With a few exceptions (Finland, Ireland, Sweden and the United Kingdom), it affects women more than men. Nevertheless, long-term unemployment has fallen steadily since 1995, when it reached its peak of 4.9%.

Although these statistics give cause for concern, significant progress has been made in the labour market. In 2002, the average employment rate within the European Union rose from 63.4% to 64.3%. Women benefited the most, with female employment increasing by more than 1% between 2001 and 2003 (from 54.1% to 55.6%). Moreover, the employment rate of elderly people rose significantly within the EU as a whole, except for Austria, Germany and Italy.

The six major priorities associated with the Lisbon objective

In an attempt to achieve the Lisbon objective, it is necessary to ensure that those facing the risk of poverty and social exclusion do not suffer disproportionately from the effects of the economic slowdown and the resulting budget restrictions. The Member States are therefore asked to attach the greatest possible importance to the following six policy priorities:

  • promoting investment in and tailoring of active labour market measures to meet the needs of those who have the greatest difficulties in accessing employment;
  • ensuring that social protection schemes are adequate and accessible for all and that they provide effective work incentives for those who can work;
  • improving access by those most at risk of social exclusion to proper housing and healthcare, and to education and lifelong learning;
  • making a concerted effort to prevent dropping out of school and promoting a smooth transition from school to the workplace;
  • focusing on the eradication of child poverty;
  • developing a dynamic policy to reduce poverty and social exclusion among immigrants and ethnic minorities.

National action plans for social inclusion 2003

The second generation of national action plans for social inclusion are based on a less optimistic view of the economic situation than their predecessors. The current economic slowdown could place people at greater risk of poverty and social exclusion. Moreover, those who are already affected are bound to suffer as a result of the overall increase in long-term unemployment and the fact that it is now more difficult to find work.

If the fight against poverty and social exclusion is to be properly coordinated and effective, the Member States must make it part of their economic, social and employment policies.

Against this background, the eight major challenges identified in the first joint report continue to be the following:

  • developing an inclusive labour market and promoting employment as a right and opportunity for all;
  • guaranteeing an adequate income and resources to live with dignity;
  • tackling educational disadvantage by prevention and lifelong learning opportunities;
  • preserving family solidarity while promoting gender equality and protecting the individual rights and benefits of family members and the rights of the child;
  • proper accommodation for all;
  • guaranteeing equal access to quality services;
  • improving public services so that they meet local and individual needs;
  • regenerating areas of multiple hardship.

Each national action plan for social inclusion is based on very different considerations, depending on the approach and priorities of the Member State which drew it up. However, irrespective of the country concerned, the national action plan for social inclusion has to meet three basic criteria:

  • exhaustive and multidimensional approachWherever possible, the national action plans for social inclusion must implement actions and policies in the different areas which affect the public. This multidimensional approach is evident in the national action plans drawn up by Belgium, France, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Portugal and Greece.
  • coherent and planned approachThe national action plans for social inclusion must be based on an in-depth analysis of the situation and must define clear and specific objectives. On the whole, the plans drawn up in 2003 were more coherent than their predecessors. A number of Member States, particularly the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries, stand out because of the strategic and logical vision reflected in their plans.
  • definition of objectivesThe plans must set precise targets for eradicating poverty and social exclusion by 2010. In general, three tendencies are evident from the plans drawn up by the Member States:

- direct outcome targets: aimed directly at reducing poverty and social exclusion in a key policy area;

- intermediate outcome targets: contribute indirectly to reducing poverty and social exclusion;

- input targets: improve policy effort in a particular area.

Greece, Spain, Ireland and Portugal are among the small number of Member States which have really established clear overall targets. In general, the approach is less systematic and focuses on problems of employment and unemployment. Few Member States take account of the male-female dimension.



  • Situation and key trends:

- Plus points:

- adoption of active measures to help the labour market;

- improvement of social protection and innovation in health-care provision;

- action to combat discrimination.

- Minus points:

- increase in long-term unemployment and youth unemployment;

- rather inconclusive results as regards housing, education and lifelong learning.

  • Strategy based on:

- an active welfare state;

- access to justice, culture and rights for atypical families;

- the male-female dimension;

-immigration questions;

-efforts to combat the over-indebtedness of poor populations.


  • Situation and key trends:

- Plus points:

- one of the lowest monetary poverty rates in the European Union;

- more equal distribution of income than in most Member States;

- introduction of flexible and protected working arrangements, and a method based on the capacity for work;

- introduction of an early retirement scheme and an integrated planning programme based on the development of employment.

- Minus point: life expectancy has increased less than in other Member States.

  • Strategy based on:

- administrative bodies, local authorities and local coordination committees;

-the involvement of users, particularly the most disadvantaged and marginalised groups;

- individualisation of needs;

- voluntary work.


  • Situation and key trends:

- Plus points:

- lower risk of poverty than in most Member States;

- he objective of reducing unemployment among the disabled by 25% has almost been achieved;

- introduction of a system of basic social protection designed to reduce poverty among the elderly or infirm;

- implementation of the "Social city" programme to help disadvantaged areas.

- Minus point: discrepancy between the west, where the poverty rate is 10% and the east, where it stands at 16%.

  • Strategy based on:

- a programme of objectives,

- local and regional social policy.


  • Situation and key trends:

- Plus points:

- constant improvement in the macroeconomic situation;

- GDP growth is above the EU average;

- development of employment growth and fall in unemployment rate;

- improvement of the system of social protection and increase in social expenditure, in particular for vulnerable groups.

- Minus point: poverty rate is below the EU average.

  • Strategy based on:

- a convergence charter adopted in 2003, and ten national objectives which have to be achieved by 2010;

- general policies, particularly as regards economic growth and structural changes;

- specific measures designed to resolve the problems of poverty and social exclusion;

- four main lines of action: rural areas, elderly people, promotion of access to employment and the quality of management.


  • Situation and key trends:

- Plus points:

- GDP growth is above the EU average;

- reduction in long-term and very long-term unemployment rate;

- extension of the fight against social exclusion at regional and local levels;

- progress in terms of cooperation between the social services and employment services;

- resources used to help vulnerable groups, particularly via financial assistance to victims of domestic violence.

- Minus point: the unemployment rate for women is still much higher than that for men, and more women than men are in temporary work.

  • Strategy based on:

- employment;

- access of groups who are at risk of or living in poverty to health care, education and housing;

-objective of reducing by 2% the number of people living below the poverty level;

- greater involvement of women with few qualifications in the labour market.


  • Situation and key trends:

- Plus point: significant progress as regards access to rights, in particular health care and justice.

- Minus points:

- very weak growth, which has led to a slowdown in the creation of jobs and a rise in unemployment (9.6% in 2003);

-increase in the number of people receiving the minimum income benefit;

-housing policies are insufficient to meet the needs concerned.

  • Strategy based on:

- access to rights and employment;

-decentralisation of territorial entities and the private sector;

-quantifiable objectives covering the main aspects of the national action plan for social inclusion.


  • Situation and key trends:

- Plus points:

- drop in persistent poverty and in the school drop-out rate;

- implementation of measures to support the unemployed and promote adult literacy;

- investment in infrastructure is above the EU average.

- Minus points:

-slowdown in economic growth, leading to a slight rise in unemployment;

-increase in the risk of poverty;

-life expectancy is lower than in other Member States;

-homelessness and the cost of housing still give cause for concern.

  • Strategy based on:

- access to employment and education;

- the most vulnerable groups;

- the examination of a number of social problems.


  • Situation and key trends:

- Plus points:

- significant reduction in the risk and rate of poverty;

-approval by most regions of a regional social plan enabling them more effectively to adopt strategies to combat social exclusion.

- Minus points:

- wide discrepancy between the north and the south, where the poverty rate is four times higher.

  • Strategy based on:

- the 2003 White Paper on social policy in Italy;

- a social agenda over a three-year period;

- decentralisation towards the regions and local authorities.


  • Situation and key trends:

- Plus point: employment growth has been constant.

- Minus points:

- significant fall in the GDP growth rate and rise in unemployment;

- adoption of measures relating to facilities, housing assistance and resources for disabled people and young people.

  • Strategy based on:

- participation in employment;

- reconciliation of family life and work;

- access to housing;

- social inclusion of young people;

- access of vulnerable people to resources, rights and services.


  • Situation and key trends:

- Plus points:

- one of the lowest poverty rates in the EU;

-employment rate overall and female employment rate are well above the Lisbon objectives;

- increase in participation in the labour market of ethnic minorities, older workers and people who are alienated from the labour market.

- Minus points:

- increase in the unemployment rate by 4% in one year;

- the number of young people leaving school without qualifications is still high among certain ethnic minorities;

- health care waiting lists for health care are worrying;

- facilities for children are incomplete.

  • Strategy based on:

- an innovative model which identifies the risks of poverty being passed on from one generation to another;

- a new system of financial award based on local authorities.


  • Situation and key trends:

- Plus points:

- significant drop in the overall rate of poverty risk;

- slight increase in expenditure on social protection;

- lowest school drop-our rate in the EU;

- steady increase in female employment;

- adoption of measures to help the elderly, the unemployed who are most disadvantaged, disabled people and immigrants.

- Minus points:

- progressive increase in the youth unemployment rate;

- one of the lowest rates of graduates in Europe.

  • Strategy based on:

- bringing down the school drop-out rate;

- guarantee of a minimum salary of EURO 1 000 and a tax exception up to this ceiling;

- extension of the minimum retirement scheme;

- continued integration of migrants.


  • Situation and key trends:

- Plus point: introduction of a minimum wage scheme and of employment promotion measures.

- Minus points:

- adverse impact of the current economic slowdown, particularly on the unemployment rate and overall productivity;

- the poverty rate is still one of the highest in the EU.

  • Strategy based on:

- very general objectives and principles, without explicitly mentioning sources of financing and budgets used;

- a "Social Network";

- education and training;

- increasing the value of minimum retirement pensions;

- certain vulnerable groups (children, young people, the homeless, immigrants);

- access of the public to information on their social rights.


  • Situation and key trends:

- Plus point: the Finnish social system is based on the principle of universality, the aim of which is to provide the entire population with social assistance and health care services with a view to guaranteeing resources.

- Minus points:

- impact of slowdown in growth on the demand for labour;

- increase in the unemployment rate and reduction in the employment rate.

  • Strategy based on:

- the existing system of social protection, based on the principle of decentralisation;

-a timetable for monitoring the implementation of all measures;

-four major policies: promoting health and working life, making working life more attractive, preventing and combating social exclusion and guaranteeing effective services.


  • Situation and key trends:

- Plus points:

- the proportion of GDP used for expenditure on social protection is the highest in the EU;

- lowest poverty rate in the EU;

- distribution of income is relatively equal;

- very high employment rate and very low unemployment rate;

-increased effort to promote social integration and reduction in the percentage of recipients of social assistance.

- Minus point: the objective of reducing dependence on social assistance by half and increasing the employment rate to 80% by 2004 will be difficult to achieve.

  • Strategy based on:

- a high employment rate, achieved through a number of measures allowing individuals to work and meet their needs;

- a significant reduction in the number of people at risk of poverty by 2010;

- integration of the male-female dimension.

United Kingdom

  • Situation and key trends:

- Plus points:

- high employment level and low unemployment level;

- considerable resources used to help vulnerable groups.

- Minus points:

- poverty rate is above the European average,

- social disparity is still marked.

  • Strategy based on:

- a strategy to combat poverty and social exclusion involving a large number of people;

- high quality public services;

- particularly disadvantaged groups;

- the eradication of child poverty by 2020;

- promoting access to the employment market and to skilled work;

- high and stable employment levels.


The Lisbon European Council of March 2000 asked the Member States and the Commission to take ambitious and effective measures by 2010 to eradicate poverty. It was also suggested that they should coordinate their policies to combat poverty and social exclusion in order to pool their objectives, indicators and national action plans.

In December 2000, the Nice European Council decided to launch a new method of combating poverty and social exclusion, based on four objectives:

  • promoting participation in employment and access by all to resources, rights, goods and services;
  • preventing the risks of exclusion;
  • action to help the most vulnerable;
  • mobilising all relevant bodies.

In this context, the national action plans for social inclusion, which were submitted in June 2001, aimed to translate the common objectives into national policies, while taking account of the situation in each Member State, and the different national systems of social protection.

The national action plans for social inclusion were examined in depth by the European Commission and the Member States in the joint report on social inclusion approved by the Laeken European Council in December 2001.

In December 2002, the European Council asked the Member States to prepare a second set of national action plans for social inclusion for July 2003.


Communication from the Commission of 10 October 2001 concerning the draft joint report on social inclusion (2000-2002) [COM(2001) 565 - Not published in the Official Journal]

Commission staff working paper. Social inclusion in the new Member States. A synthesis of the joint memoranda on social inclusion [SEC(2004) 848].

The Gothenburg European Council asked the new Member States to transpose into their national policies the social, environmental and economic objectives of the European Union.

Against this background, the Joint Inclusion Memoranda (JIM) reflect the political commitment of the new Member States to attach greater importance to combating poverty and social exclusion.

Social exclusion is a thorny problem in most of the new Member States and is largely the result of their readjustment to a market economy. This profound change resulted in a severe fall in production and a significant increase in the unemployment rate, particularly in the Baltic States, Poland and Slovakia.

In absolute terms, the risk of poverty in the new Member States is comparable with that in the old Member States. However, salary levels in the new Member States are much lower and people living below the poverty level experience living conditions which are significantly worse than those in the other countries in the EU.

The worrying levels of poverty highlighted in the Joint Inclusion Memoranda prove that the need for action is urgent. In this regard, six main challenges have been identified:

  • expand employment market policies in order to improve the integration of those groups who are most at risk;
  • ensure that social security systems guarantee an adequate minimum wage which enables everyone to live with dignity;
  • increase the opportunities available in the fields of education and lifelong learning, particularly for those at risk of poverty and social exclusion;
  • improve the quality of public services;
  • step up efforts to combat very high levels of exclusion and discrimination against certain ethnic groups, such as the Roma, and other very vulnerable groups;
  • strengthen policies to support the family and social assistance networks and reinforce the protection of children's rights.

Last updated: 26.03.2007