EU Funding: New ESF+ targets specific funds to combat child poverty

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The newly approved European Social Fund Plus will be ring-fencing a proportion of funds towards the eradication of child poverty, with states exceeding the EU average being legally bound to commit 5% of funds towards such objective.

During a Plenary Session held this week, the European Parliament approved the European Social Fund Plus, carrying a budget of €88 billion, close to 10% of the total EU budget. The ESF+ will be a key financial instrument to implement the European Pillar of Social Rights, to support jobs and create a fair and socially inclusive society. It will also provide much needed resources to Member States for the recovery of our societies and economies after the coronavirus crisis.

Addressing a press briefing organised by the European Parliament Office in Malta, Maltese MEP David Casa, who was the rapporteur on the subject, explained how during months of intensive negotiations with Council, Parliament achieved its goal of ensuring that specific objectives are enshrined in the applicable obligations.

While Member States defended and obtained a degree of flexibility in spending ESF+ Funds, Casa said the EP insisted on guarantees that certain themes will have to be covered by each State, so as to ensure that no one is left behind. The EP also secured more ambitious funding for investing in youth employment and combating child poverty, addressing two groups of people that have been particularly hard hit by the crisis.

Member states with an above EU-average percentage of young people not in employment, education or training (NEET) between 2017 and 2019 should devote at least 12.5% of their ESF+ resources to help them improve their skills or find a good quality job. Other member states should also dedicate resources to them, preferably by implementing the reinforced Youth Guarantee schemes.

On a similar basis, EU countries where the number of children at a high risk of poverty is above the EU average will have to spend a minimum of 5% of the ESF+ resources on actions that contribute to children’s equal access to free healthcare, free education, free childcare, decent housing and adequate nutrition.. Casa explained that while the EU’s average in this context reaches 23.4%, Malta registers a 23.1%, a figure which the MEP described as concerning.

In 2019, Malta’s AROPE, the indicator measuring persons at risk of poverty, amounted to 20 per cent of total households. While that number is rather close to the EU average, more than half of households with a single adult and dependent children are at risk of poverty and social exclusion. This is significantly higher than the EU average.

This decision was welcomed by a number of NGOs supporting distressed children. “Special emphasis should be paid to children without parental care, especially those in institutional care who are among the most vulnerable”, according to Valérie Ceccherini from SOS Children’s Villages International, stressing that it is vital “to prioritise community- or family-based care and prepare those children for independent living once they reach adulthood”.

Malta to get EUR 125m in ESF+ Funding
Malta is expected to receive some EUR125m from the ESF+. The EPP MEP added that it is now up to Government to identify programmes and schemes to best utilise such funds. He recalled that throughout the previous programming period, ESF funds were used to provide tablets to all schoolchildren, to provide food for the most deprived, to organise training for young people of out of the job market and for other socially inclusive measures.

Casa described the ESF+ is a key tool to build a more social and inclusive European Union. “It is all the more crucial given the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and will play an important role in the recovery. Parliament will now closely monitor the effective use of the ESF+ across the EU, in particular to ensure that the applicable schemes reflect the objectives and fundamental values of the EU”.

Following the political agreement, the European Parliament and the Council will have to formally approve the ESF+ Regulation for its entry into force.

This article is part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. This article reflects only the author’s view. The European Parliament is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.