COUNCIL OF EUROPE
    COMMITTEE OF MINISTERS

    Recommendation Rec(2003)19
    of the Committee of Ministers to member states
    on improving access to social rights

    (Adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 24 September 2003
    at the 853rd meeting of the Ministers' Deputies)

    1. The Committee of Ministers, under the terms of Article 15.b of the Statute of the Council of Europe,

    2. Considering that the aim of the Council of Europe is to achieve greater unity between its members for the purpose of safeguarding and realising the ideals and principles which are their common heritage and facilitating their economic and social progress;

    3. Considering that through its legal instruments, in particular the European Social Charter, the Revised European Social Charter and the European Code of Social Security, the Council of Europe has established a set of European standards for social rights and their implementation;

    4. Building upon other relevant recommendations of the Council of Europe;

    5. Considering the Final Declaration of the Second Council of Europe Summit, in which the heads of state and government of the member states affirmed their resolve to promote social cohesion as an essential supplement to the promotion of human rights and dignity;

    6. Considering the Council of Europe's Strategy for Social Cohesion, which affirms that social cohesion policies facilitate access to social rights;

    7. Considering the Malta Declaration adopted by the Conference on Access to Social Rights held on 14 and 15 November 2002;

    8. Aware of the indivisibility and the interdependence of human rights and affirming its commitment to the promotion of social rights as an integral part of human rights;

    9. Aware that poverty and social exclusion are factors that, among others, undermine the enjoyment of human rights;

    10. Recognising that some persons, in particular those in a situation of vulnerability, may encounter obstacles to the full enjoyment of their social rights;

    11. Aware that the promotion of prevention measures helps to combat all forms of exclusion, avoiding the loss of rights and facilitating access to, and preservation of, social rights;

    12. Affirming that effective access to social rights for all is essential to social cohesion and contributes to economic development;

    13. Recognising the interdependence of the various social rights,

    14. Recommends that the governments of member states implement policies promoting access to social rights. Such policies should:

    - be guided by the values of freedom, equality, dignity, and solidarity;

    - be based on the principles of non-discrimination, partnership, quality, privacy and transparency;

    - devote particular attention to persons in situations of vulnerability;

    - strive to follow the guidelines set out in the appendix to this recommendation.

    15. Recommends that the governments of member states widely circulate this recommendation.

    Appendix to Recommendation Rec (2003)19

    In drawing up and implementing policies aimed at improving access to social rights, the governments of member states are invited to:

    - give concrete form to social rights by setting up a legal framework providing, inter alia, for:

    - accessible and transparent redress and appeal systems, including cost-free procedures for persons of modest means;

    - free legal aid for persons of modest means;

    - representation by citizens' organisations of wronged persons in redress and appeal procedures;

    - ombudsman services;
    - set up appropriate social services with adequate human and financial resources: to this end, they are invited to:

    - allocate human and financial resources as efficiently as possible;

    - allocate resources to prevention measures;

    - allocate resources for responding to individual social emergency situations;

    - provide staff with training in the professional and human relations skills needed, focusing in particular on non-discrimination;

    - develop services geared to users' needs, giving priority to integrated approaches: to this end, they are invited to:

    - ensure that official documents and administrative language are simplified and the amount of paperwork required from users is reduced;

    - divide responsibilities clearly among the various bodies and services;

    - improve the pooling of skills by reducing the compartmentalisation of the various tiers of government and services;

    - consider setting up "service platforms" or "one-stop shops";

    - consider ensuring continued support of individual progress;

    - promote the shared responsibility of services and users in order to prevent abuse;

    - undertake outreach work towards persons identified as not exercising their rights;

    - consider setting up mobile welfare offices;

    - introduce an effective public information policy: to this end, they are invited to:

    - provide targeted, regularly updated information written in simple and precise language;

    - provide information in several languages as necessary;

    - use as many channels of information as possible, including new information technologies;

    - adapt information to persons with special needs;

    - monitor the quality and effectiveness of information, for instance, by conducting periodic surveys of delivery effectiveness and user satisfaction;

    - ensure the quality of reception of users in social service offices: to this end, they are invited to:

    - ensure that staff, including volunteers, are adequately trained;

    - facilitate access to premises (by removing physical barriers, for instance) and ensure that premises are easily identifiable;

    - arrange user-friendly opening hours;

    - ensure that premises are welcoming;

    - respect the privacy of users and the confidentiality of information within the premises;

    - ensure that policies on access to social rights are monitored and evaluated: to this end, they are invited to:

    - promote user involvement in social services;

    - consider setting up national social rights observatories;

    - evaluate the impact of existing and prospective policies and measures on access to social rights;

    - promote the exchange of information and experiences in the field of access to social rights among the member states;

    - establish and actively support appropriate partnership among all those concerned (users, users' representatives, local authorities, social partners, social protection institutions, NGOs and other actors of civil society) with the development, implementation and evaluation of measures taken to promote access to social rights.



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