ΟΜΙΛΙΑ ΕΠΙΤΡΟΠΟΥ ΚΟΙΝΩΝΙΚΩΝ ΥΠΟΘΕΣΕΩΝ: ΑΝΕΠΑΡΚΗΣ ΥΛΟΠΟΙΗΣΗ ΤΟΥ ΕΣΠΑ ΣΤΗΝ ΨΥΧΙΚΗ ΥΓΕΙΑ ΑΛΛΑ ΘΑ ΒΟΗΘΑΜΕ ΓΙΑ ΤΗΝ ΕΠΙΤΕΥΞΗ ΣΥΓΚΕΡΙΜΕΝΩΝ ΣΤΟΧΩΝ
Athens Imperial Hotel, 30 March 2012
Addressing mental health issues in a time of severe financial and economic crisis — the worst the European Union has seen — is both topical and very much to the point in the present climate, especially here in Greece.
As Commissioner responsible for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, my priority is to ensure not only that people find work and keep their jobs, but also that their working conditions are satisfactory and their social situation is adequate.
Nonetheless, the challenges facing the EU and Greece in particular today are huge.
First, unemployment stands at 10.1% in the EU and 10.7% in the euro area. The EU's total jobless number 24.3 million, with just under 17 million in the euro area. One in five young people on the labour market cannot find work.
Secondly, having a job should be the best safeguard against poverty and social exclusion, but that is not always the case.
Over with jobs in the EU are at risk of poverty — those we call the And almost a is at risk of poverty or social exclusion.
Growing numbers are at risk of income poverty, and they include children. The number of people at risk of social exclusion, acute health problems and homelessness is also rising.
Thirdly, across the Union, many workers fear for their jobs or have to cope with a heavier workload, as organisations seek to do more with less.
The present crisis is transforming our economies and societies, and what we do today will have important long-term consequences.
If Europe is not united and does not take coordinated action to make solidarity a fact, we have no chance of restoring the growth potential of those Member States that are at a distance from the centre. Instead, we will open the door to greater asymmetry, wider disparities, more division and more instability.
There is no quick-fix solution because what we need are policy responses that are commensurate with the challenges. We need action that is based on a long-term strategy.
This crisis is indeed a threat to many people’s well-being in both the short and the long term.
What the situation does offer is an opportunity to consider the most important social and political issues and weigh up all options.
The crisis forces us to have another look at where we stand on basic questions of political economy.
The European Union needs a development model that galvanises the economy and fosters social progress. A model adapted to today’s global economy, and one that brings us closer to our goals of solidarity, fairness and sustainability.
I believe the EU does have a clear blueprint for socio-economic development in which economic dynamism and social progress mesh and work together. It is the Europe 2020 Strategy.
This is the Union’s first long-term strategy that tackles the economic, environmental and social challenges head-on and comprehensively — with commitments and targets for improvement on all these fronts.
The core of Europe 2020 is a conviction that the EU’s economic success and prosperity depend not only on short-term factors — like cost competitiveness — but also on longer-term factors, like the quality of our human capital, environmental resource efficiency, and social cohesion.
Europe 2020 focuses action in economic and all other policy areas on five key measurable targets.
One of these involves raising the employment rate, another relates to improving educational outcomes and yet another focuses on reducing poverty and social exclusion.
Overall, Europe 2020 gives the Union the long-term strategy that it needs in the present crisis.
Fairer sharing of the benefits of growth bolsters the collective good, prevents social conflicts, and strengthens public cooperation and trust. Growth cannot be smart and sustainable without being inclusive.
The Member States are carrying out major reforms which the Commission monitors very closely.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I believe nobody understands the importance of reforms better than the Greeks. The crisis in Greece is a challenge for Greek society and for the EU too.
Thanks to European solidarity, we have avoided the worst — an unmitigated financial, political and social disaster. But the situation remains difficult, especially for the most vulnerable.
Let me stress the words employment and growth. They are the main objectives of Greece's economic reform programme. In the wake of the huge imbalances that have built up, the adjustments necessary will take time.
But we should face the fact fairly and squarely that there can be neither growth nor new jobs unless the economic imbalances are corrected.
I am convinced that the social challenges facing us call for innovative solutions.
A key component of Europe 2020, social innovation is a way of boosting creativity and mainstreaming social objectives more effectively in all fields of life and all policy areas.
It is also a chance more broadly to embrace some determinants of social cohesion and well-being — such as, the way non-social public services are delivered and ways of making social protection allowances more efficient.
We need not only to boost social innovation on the ground, but also to make it the core of public policy. Social experimentation is becoming an additional European policy tool for testing innovative solutions and facilitating reform.
What it entails is testing ideas out first on a small scale and evaluating their impact on recipients before scaling them up where they prove effective.
This can provide a way of collecting evidence on the real impact of measures on people, and this in turn enables us to fine-tune services and benefits more effectively.
Promoting social innovation is an investment which can have a very positive socio-economic return. That is why the Commission gave a prominent place to social innovation in its proposal for legislation on Cohesion Policy for the period 2014 to 2020. It steps up the role of the European Social Fund, the EU’s main instrument for investing in people.
Assessing the impact of the crisis also means assessing its impact on people's health, and mental health is a major issue here.
There are a number of important observations that need to be made regarding the mental health of workers:
• In the EU, there has been a trend away from jobs in heavy industry, while our occupational health legislation has tended to focus on physical — rather than mental — health.
• Nonetheless, the incidence of disease due to depression is set to increase: it is set to become the first contributor of global disease burden by 2030.
• While income and tax are needed to fund health and social care services, poor mental health affects the individual's ability to earn income and pay tax. In turn this has an adverse effect on the sustainability of health care systems.
• The need to pay out long-term sickness benefit will also have a negative impact.
• Poor mental health will increase the pressure on the health system through the increase in the risk of co-morbid physical health problems, and in the demands on primary, hospital and long-term treatment.
Mental health problems account for the largest percentage of the cost relating to disease in the EU and for 23% of the years people spend suffering from a disability.
A European Opinion Poll on Occupational Safety and Health published on 27 March finds that job-related stress is a concern to the large majority of the European workforce.
It notes that 80% of the working population across Europe thinks that the number of people suffering from job-related stress over the next five years will increase, while 52% expect it to ‘increase a lot’.
Work-related stress is one of the biggest health and safety challenges facing Europe, and represents a huge cost in terms of human distress and economic performance.
The poll also found that a large majority of Europeans (86%) agree that good occupational safety and health practice are vital for national economic competitiveness, with 56% strongly agreeing.
The poll also found that 87% of the general public across Europe believe that good occupational health and safety practice is important in helping people work for longer before they retire.
To survive and expand, EU companies depend on a committed workforce, which will only thrive in a high-quality working environment with safe and healthy working conditions.
There is no doubt that a healthy working environment is a big factor in competitiveness and can play a crucial role in increasing the workforce’s potential.
Investing in occupational health and safety is good for business. It contributes to company performance, improves staff well-being, reduces absenteeism and staff turnover, and brings greater job satisfaction.
Economic analysis can help build business cases that show how strategic investments in innovative occupational safety and health practice can offer financial opportunities.
Unfortunately, in many cases, restructuring, new forms of work and frequent job transitions have not been accompanied by the right working conditions and accompanying measures. This has increased psychological stress, psychosocial disorders and even serious forms of mental ill-health.
EU legislation on occupational health and safety and associated measures play a fundamental role.
They seek to ensure that working conditions are not detrimental to workers' health, including their mental health.
It is precisely the implications for mental health of such policy and policy-making that we want to address.
From a social and employment policy perspective, therefore, it is vital to bear workplace-related mental health determinants in mind.
That is also true from a strict economic perspective: there is a clear choice between a healthy and productive workforce that can help improve economic prospects, and a workforce with a significant number of dependent, non-productive workers.
We are currently launching the final evaluation of the Community Health and Safety at work Strategy for 2007 to 2012.
Hopefully its outcome will feed the debate among the stakeholders on the priorities for a new Strategy in 2012. Workplace mental health needs to be on our list of priorities, and this Conference can make a useful contribution.
Apart from our work in the health and safety area, it is worth mentioning the conclusions that the Council adopted last year on mental health. They state that the Member States commit themselves to improving mental health and developing strategies to achieve that.
Over the past two years, the European Pact for Mental Health and Well-being has provided a forum for Member States and stakeholders to discuss mental health issues and identify what works.
Addressing mental health is not about treatment only: it is also about prevention and promotion in partnership with stakeholders and in tandem with a range of other policies, such as youth, education and social policy.
To help Member States in their work, the European Commission has adopted a proactive approach.
There is a wealth of good practice available across the EU on addressing mental health issues. The Commission has brought this together and is disseminating it through the "EU Compass for Action on Mental health and Well-being".
The European Commission is also in the process of launching a joint action with Member States on mental health. It is still time for Greece to join in, and I encourage it to do so.
Let me close with a few words on the psychiatric reform in Greece.
In Greece the ESF under the operational programme ‘Human Resources Development’ 2007 13 aims inter alia to promote the social and labour market inclusion of disadvantaged groups of the population. Under the programme, a total amount of EUR 377 million earmarked for health reforms. The bulk of this financing is earmarked for the implementation of the mental health reform in Greece (‘Psychargos’ programme), a reform which has received EU support for many years.
I am aware that some progress was made in 2011 with regard to the implementation of the ESF funds for health and welcome the recent legislation adopted in March 2012 for the part that involves improvements in the area of public and mental health.
In spite of these welcome developments, the reality today is that progress in using the significant amounts of EU funds that have been allocated to support the mental health reform is insufficient.
Indeed, intensive efforts will be required to complete the mental health reform, and the present fiscal and economic difficulties do not make things easier. The Commission is of course ready to continue to assist the Greek authorities in delivering concrete results.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The negative impact of the global economic crisis on employment, working conditions and workers' mental health is something we cannot ignore.
The ideas and experience shared at this conference should help in preparing future action.
I wish you a very successful conference.
at 10:53 π.μ.