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German EU Presidency 2007

2007 European Year of Equal Opportunities for All

Diversity at work

EU Policy Background

Empowered by the new Articles 136 and 137 in the Amsterdam Treaty, the Member States of the European Union have made a common commitment to fight against social exclusion and poverty. 60 million people in the EU today are poor or at risk of poverty - which is defined as those living below a threshold of 60% of median national income. The figure varies considerably across Member States, from 8% in Denmark to 23% in Portugal and 22% in Greece, Ireland and the U.K. Children and young people, the elderly, the unemployed and lone parent families have a particularly high risk of poverty. The EU has set a target of eradicating poverty in the Member States by 2010.

The Member States and the European Commission have identified a series of severe risk factors that increase the likelihood of being trapped in poverty, these being: long-term unemployment, living long-term on low income, low quality employment, poor qualifications and leaving school early, growing up in a family vulnerable to social exclusion, disability, poor health, drug abuse and alcoholism, living in an area of multiple disadvantage, homelessness and precarious housing, immigration, ethnic background and risk of racial discrimination.

And what About People with Disabilities?

The European Social Inclusion Report (2001) highlights the fact that disabled people are more likely to be in poverty, more likely to be unemployed (and long-term unemployed) and less likely to have medium and higher educational qualifications.

A range of means must be developed to address these problems. These include offering disabled people better training and qualifications, thus making them more employable. Other measures are needed to target the work environment itself, eliminating the various barriers which prohibit or reduce employment possibilities for disabled people. These include: raising employers' awareness of their obligations not to discriminate against disabled employees or job applicants; adapting workplaces (physical access, facilities "designed for all" and appropriate Information Technology tools), so that disabled workers are not denied the right to work; and creating flexible work arrangements, so that disabled people can achieve their best while at work.