24ème Session du Congrès des pouvoirs locaux et régionaux du Conseil de l’Europe (19-21 mars 2013)
Social exclusion: A problem with many faces
On 20th March 2013, at the opening of the debate on “Combatting Social Exclusion” three local elected representatives adressed Congress members on how their municipalities are fighting social exclusion, providing examples and sharing experiences. Maria Andrikopoulou-Rouvali, Deputy-Mayor of Patras, Greece, reported that the integration of vulnerable groups in society, such as immigrants and women, was a priority in Patras. Mr Egan, Cabinet Member for Strategy and Communications of Lewisham Council, explained that “social exclusion is about more than statistics… it’s about race, gender and age. It’s about whether our children will have a better chance in life, and whether our older generation can continue to live independently but not alone.” The approach of all three local leaders could be summed up in a question that Mr Muller, the mayor of Commercy, France, must address each day: “How can I avoid marginalising a part of a population which no longer corresponds to the dominant social model?”
In all three municipalities, unemployment and the consequences of poverty were important contributing factors to social exclusion. A key area of concern for the local government of Lewisham was the exclusion of young people from the job market. This was approached with the creation of an apprenticeship scheme for young people, allowing them to add solid experience to their CV, and providing an annual salary in order to avoid the exclusion of young people in poverty. Mr Muller described the Social Convenience Store which was set up in Commercy in 2006 by the Communal Social Action Centre (CSAC). This tool was designed to contribute to the social, economic and professional integration of those in precarious situations. As well as making it easier to reestablish social links, the store helped reduce debt and, on a practical level, provided food to those in difficult times. In Patras, there was an emphasis on social solidarity and volunteering, for example, volunteer paediatricians treated children from a background of poverty. Unemployed social workers and mechanics had also received advice and training to help them return to work.
The diverse populations of Lewisham and Patra meant that integration of ethnic minorities and immigrants was key for the local leaders. The local government of Lewisham aimed to combat the social exclusion of ethnic minorities by representing the diverse population in its political sphere, with 75% of young apprentices coming from black and ethnic minority communities .Mr Egan outlined a programme called Operation Black Vote, designed to promote civic engagement within the black and minority communities of the Borough, which involved the training of 40 residents over the period of a year, providing them with an insight into local government. Ms Andrikopoulou-Rouvali stated that the local government of Patras aimed to consider the opinions and needs of the immigrant population in order to promote integration. Voluntary groups and associations organized cultural and sport activities which many immigrants took part in. Patras was also a participant in the Intercultural Cities Programme, cooperating with other countries to promote interculturality as a source of development, and Ms Andrikopoulou-Rouvali stated that Patras was prepared to cooperate at a local and European level to improve the situation.