New fund supporting the most deprived is important but insufficient

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

Europe is facing a social crisis that requires immediate responses as well as long term initiatives. Material support as emergency relief is needed, while long term efforts to boost social inclusion must continue, five social NGOs write.

This is a joint opinion by Jorge Nuño Mayer, Secretary General of Caritas Europa; Heather Roy, Secretary General of Eurodiaconia; Leon Prop, Director of Red Cross EU Office; Freek Spinnewijn, Director of FEANTSA; Barbara Helfferich, Director of EAPN.

"While this approval shows the EU’s commitment to social cohesion and to the fight against poverty, there is still a lot to do before the promised help reaches the most vulnerable. The Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD) must have an identity that echoes the need to support those who are the most vulnerable in our societies and those who are the furthest away from the labour market, ensuring that their fundamental rights are met.

The EP’s approval of the Fund marks the end of long and difficult negotiations. The new fund makes a considerable contribution to delivering goods and support to citizens living in poverty and social exclusion. But, the FEAD should be integrated into wider and comprehensive national anti-poverty strategies so as to maximize its effects at national level. This is the most effective way to make sure that it will complement and not replace Members States’ intervention.

Food aid alone cannot be the only solution to address poverty. The complementarity of material assistance and social inclusion measures of the new FEAD is welcomed and should play a key role in shifting the paradigm from today’s food-aid model to a social inclusion-based model. This change is crucial to tackle poverty and empower the poorest and the most excluded ones in Europe.

Handing out aid packages might not always seem a good thing to do. We are aware of the concerns by some Member States about supporting the new Fund. But there is theory, and there is the reality we are facing in our work in the local communities. Across Europe we see more and more people struggling to get through the month. They ask for help to cope with pressing needs. We cannot leave them behind.

This Fund should be an opportunity for national governments to develop sustainable social emergency interventions to kick-start change in the lives of people experiencing homelessness, making links where possible with resettlement interventions of the European Social Fund (ESF).

This Fund must act as an emergency instrument where other types of funding cannot be used.  As such it should complement ESF and Member State funding which can help support long-term and integrated pathways to social inclusion for those who are the most distant from the labour market. Alongside with national anti-poverty strategies, this is the most powerful way to make sure that EU Member States will make real progress towards the delivery on their national anti-poverty target.

While we strongly welcome the FEAD, we call on member states to involve Civil Society Organisations in a meaningful manner at the different stages of the programming and to use this fund for the unconditional support of the most vulnerable and excluded, and to base their actions on the protection and promotion of dignity of each person and their fundamental rights, and in the pursuit of the common good."

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