My input to the Citizen’s Panel online meeting on the topic of social security (challenges and possible solutions)

Hello, welcome, thank you very much for the next invitation and I am very happy to be able to take part in this important event again.

I will briefly talk about three challenges facing social security systems and the possible responses to them. They are linked by the issue of an irregular or atypical career path, and thus - limited access to social security benefits, i.e. unemployment benefits, pensions, family benefits and similar.

Firstly, I would like to draw attention to the situation of people who care for children or other dependent family members. As a rule, these are women, mothers. Either they have to stop their paid work or they give it up altogether. The result is, for example, lower pensions, reflecting shorter social security contributions. We have a really big difference in pension levels between men and women - in the European Union the pension gap is on average over 40%.

There are different solutions here. First, recognition of the caring work performed mainly by mothers - for example by counting the period of parental leave towards the contribution period. In the Member States, there are solutions such as basic pensions for women who quit their jobs in order to take care of their children. There are also schemes called "cash-for-care"  - that is, a form of direct remuneration for care work.

Such solutions are positively assessed precisely as an element of recognizing and rewarding unpaid care work performed mainly by women. But on the other hand, it is also said that these solutions may contribute to the consolidation of a conservative division of roles, in which men are responsible for professional work and financial support for the family, and the woman is mainly a caretaker.

On the other hand, another way out of this situation is to provide solutions that support a fuller participation of women in the labor market and the reconciliation of professional and family roles, such as investment in care services, nurseries, kindergartens and afternoon classes. As a result, this professional career of women is more consistent, contribution periods are longer, women enjoy greater financial autonomy and, as a result, also have higher pensions.

But again - here are voices that such an investment in external care services does not change something very important, which fundamentally affects the situation of women, namely - the unequal distribution of responsibilities in the family. Working mothers are additionally burdened with household duties. After returning from work, they still have to take care of the household, children and prepare meals. So we have a problem with fathers getting involved in these caring roles. One answer to this problem is, for example, mobilizing fathers to become more involved in caring work by reserving a part of parental leave especially for them, such a solution can be found in the Work-life Balance Directive. There is ample evidence that fathers who were on parental leave for a longer time did in fact take over some of the caring and household responsibilities. It also has a positive effect on the professional work of women.

I could talk about it for a long time, but I will move on to the second of the challenges I would like to mention, namely the problem of precarious employment, which generates similar problems in accessing social security. People with short or irregular employment history, often young people, have a problem with access to unemployment benefits or childbirth benefits, because you must have, for example, at least one year of employment, otherwise they do not qualify. Here, first of all, the necessity to make contributions to each employment contract and to take into account contribution periods in the event that we do not have continuity of employment or when someone, for example, studies, is pointed out. Yet another solution is to extend these rights to everyone, regardless of the form and history of employment, and to extend them to all employees.

Finally, I would like to mention the problem of adapting social security to the situation of migrant workers. Many EU citizens, even temporarily migrating to another Member State, do not have sufficient rights to receive and transfer the benefit to another country. Inactive migrant citizens may be excluded from accessing social assistance benefits in another Member State for up to five years of legal residence.

There are, of course, mechanisms for coordinating social security in the European Union. But in discussions on this problem, there are such solutions as, for example, opening access to social assistance benefits for all migrant citizens, i.e. universal benefits, among alternative solutions one can certainly mention universal basic income or any program guaranteeing minimum income or at least a form of social assistance for every citizen of the European Union who is in need. Another proposed instrument is unemployment insurance, with a common EU fund and contributions.

There are many other possible solution, but I should stop here, thank you very much.

Dorota Szelewa, 6 November 2021. 

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