The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council met for the informal meeting of Ministers on 3 and 4 April 2017 in Valletta, Malta; I represented the UK. The informal meeting does not tend to include legislative matters, but provides an opportunity for in-depth policy debates. The subjects for discussion are determined by the presidency, who hosts the meeting.
The European Commission presented an EU road map for “making work pay”, which was the theme of the informal meeting. The Commission set out details of the White Paper on the future of Europe as well as an update on expected proposals for the European pillar of social rights.
The presidency led a discussion on skills, emphasising how poor skills lead to social exclusion. Member state interventions highlighted the importance of investing to raise skill levels and improve the quality of jobs.
A plenary discussion was held on the subject of addressing inequalities in the labour market, with a focus on the challenges of responding to digitalisation, the rise in self-employment, new types of employment, and demographic change.
The presidency gave a presentation on “moving away from benefit dependency—a Maltese perspective”, setting out how work has to be incentivised over benefits and how activation is critical. The Social Protection Committee chair outlined a framework of six key themes, including the balance between activation and income support; the provision of individualised support; and the availability of affordable services.
The final plenary of the informal meeting considered the labour market as a vehicle for social inclusion. Member states emphasised the importance of activation for the long-term unemployed, as well as the role of access to child and social care.