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Statement by Executive Vice-President Dombrovskis and Commissioner Schmit on protecting people from asbestos and minimum income

Statement given yesterday by Executive Vice-President Dombrovskis and Commissioner Schmit on protecting people from asbestos and minimum income.

Executive Vice-President Dombrovskis:

At a time of surging inflation and an energy crisis provoked by Russia's brutal war in Ukraine, it is more important than ever to focus on employment and social dimensions across our Member States.

The immediate issue for this autumn is to address surging energy bills.

The Commission has proposed emergency measures for electricity markets that could provide Member States with as much as €140 billion to support families and businesses.

The resources should be used to help the most vulnerable in particular: those at the lower end of pay and pension scales, and struggling small businesses.

The Recovery and Resilience Facility will also play an important role. It is vital for Member States to press ahead with investments and reforms identified in their national plans.

This will help us to weather the effects of the war in Ukraine and emerge stronger from the crisis. Member States can make use of some €225 billion still available in RRF loans.

And our REPowerEU initiative will help us to save energy, diversify energy supplies and boost use of renewable energy.

We must keep working together to provide the most effective and efficient policy response and support for those who need it most.

This includes social partners too. They play a critical role in seeing that the costs incurred by this crisis are distributed fairly.

Turning to today's proposals: as we continue to put into effect the European Pillar of Social rights, they make good on the commitments that we made in last year's action plan.

On the proposal for a recommendation on minimum income:

It aims to tackle social exclusion by making sure that EU countries have accessible and adequate social safety nets in place, following an active inclusion approach – and including through minimum income schemes.

The safety nets help to reduce social inequalities within Member States. They help boost employment by contributing to labour market integration for those who can work.

Minimum income schemes should strike the right balance between:

  • alleviating poverty
  • providing sufficient incentives, and
  • supporting people to re-integrate in society and labour markets.

They should be sustainable in terms of their budgetary costs.

Today's recommendation will help to reach the EU's 2030 targets of reducing the number of people in poverty or social exclusion, and of boosting employment.

I will now turn to another area where we need to improve policies: tackling the risks posed by asbestos.

We are all aware of its very real dangers as a cancer-causing agent. The EU has been taking action in this area for 40 years, banning the very last form of asbestos in 2005.

But even today, as much as 78% of occupational cancers recognised in Member States are related to asbestos.

Given that more than 220 million building units were built before the 2005 ban, a significant part of today's building stock still contains asbestos. 

As you know, a key part of the planned green transition is to renovate buildings to make them more energy-efficient.

Renovations will improve people's health and living conditions and also reduce their energy bills.

However, renovating, adapting or demolishing older buildings can increase exposure to asbestos, especially for those working in the construction sector.

This is why we need to update the existing rules, as contained in the Asbestos at Work Directive.

We should do this now, also to reflect new scientific knowledge. So we propose reducing the occupational exposure limit value to 10 times lower than its current value.

Looking further ahead, we will do much more to fight asbestos and its dangers. This reflects last year's European Parliament resolution calling for an EU strategy to remove all asbestos.

We will:

  • ask Member States to develop asbestos removal strategies
  • set procedures to screen and register asbestos in buildings
  • and improve asbestos waste disposal practices.

Today's communication on working towards an asbestos-free future is part of our long-term work to improve the prevention of cancer, protect people's health and the environment, and ensure decent living and working conditions for all Europeans.

Thank you and I now pass the floor to Nicolas.

Commissioner Schmit:

Today we address two Principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights, adding two more pieces to the puzzle: Principle 10 on a healthy and safe work environment; and Principle 14, on adequate minimum income.

The Pillar of Social Rights states that “Everyone lacking sufficient resources has the right to adequate minimum income benefits ensuring a life in dignity at all stages of life, and effective access to enabling goods and services. For those who can work, minimum income benefits should be combined with incentives to (re)integrate into the labour market.”

At the Porto Social Summit in May last year, EU leaders endorsed new social targets to meet by 2030. One of these was to reduce the number of people at risk of poverty and exclusion by at least 15 million people. Minimum income is a cash benefit given to households as a last resort, to help people pay the bills, and lift them out of poverty.In the current context, with soaring living costs and energy bills, we have to pay extra attention to those households and individuals that risk falling through the cracks.We don't want to leave people at the poverty threshold, we want to help lift people out. First, with benefits. Then with active help to return to education or a job.Income support schemes exist in all Member States, but our analysis shows that they are not always adequate, they don't reach people who need it, and they don't always help those who can work to return to the labour market.People being paid income support are still below the poverty line in 22 Member States, and around 20% of jobless people at risk of poverty are not eligible to receive any income support.To make sure that income support schemes are adequate, Member States should set a level that takes into account various elements, like prices, overall income sources and wage developments.The level should then reach the poverty threshold or the equivalent, using a basket of goods and services as the guide.

To make sure it reaches the right people, Member States should set criteria that:

  • doesn't discriminate against age
  • makes sure the length of legal residence is fair
  • allows it to reach individuals and not just households.

This is important to reach single parent families, especially headed by women. Member States should proactively reach out to persons lacking sufficient resources to encourage the take-up, particularly of single-parent households.We recommend that the application procedures are simplified, there should be more readily available information on how to apply, and that applications are processed within 30 days.There should be more individualised support. People should be assigned a case manager with an inclusion plan made within 3 months. Minimum income should also help people get back to the labour market, especially focusing on young people to make sure they do not stay out of work for a long period.Member States should provide the right incentives for people to return to work, offer support through training programmes and for example allow them to combine income support with earnings from work in the short term. Just a final word before I move onto asbestos.

Today the College also adopted a Communication on better assessing the distributional impact of Member States' policies. It offers guidance on how to better target policies, making sure that they address existing inequalities and take into account the impact on different geographical areas and population groups, like women, children and low-income households. The Communication covers guidance on the policy areas, tools, indicators, timing, data and dissemination of the assessment. This is relevant for Member States when designing their minimum income schemes, but not only these, it applies to all policies.

Last October, I made a promise to the European Parliament plenary that we would closely follow up on its Resolution on asbestos.We are not starting from scratch. All forms of asbestos have been banned in the EU since 2005. But asbestos remains present in older buildings. 220 million units were built before the ban.It poses a health threat, particularly when materials containing asbestos are disturbed and fibres are released and inhaled, for instance during renovations. This can go onto cause cancers that only show themselves decades later. This is particularly relevant in the context of the green transition and our EU ambition to increase the renovation rate of buildings and make them more energy efficient.

Based on the latest scientific and technological developments, the Commission is proposing to reduce the exposure limit of asbestos at work tenfold compared to the current value.This new limit was decided after scientific assessment and feasibility analysis by the tri-partite Advisory Committee on Safety and Health at Work, a two-stage social partner consultation and an Impact Assessment.To ensure the safe disposal of asbestos and zero pollution, the Commission will revise the EU Construction and Demolition Waste Management Protocol, and the Guidelines for the waste audits before demolition and renovation works of buildings.To improve information on asbestos in buildings, the Commission will put forward a legislative proposal on the screening and registration of asbestos in buildings. Member States will be asked to develop national strategies for the removal of asbestos.To better support victims of asbestos-related diseases, the Commission already two weeks ago proposed a new EU approach on cancer detection, which includes an update to the 2003 Council Recommendation on cancer screening. We will also consult the tripartite Advisory Committee on Safety and Health at Work on including additional asbestos-related diseases as occupational diseases.

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