Recent figures released by the Resolution Foundation show that young people in the UK are increasingly stuck in low-paid jobs, often on temporary contracts that offer no security and few prospects for the future.
29% of workers aged 21-30 are now classed as low paid, compared to just 8% in 1975. And although the number of low paid older workers has declined, 1 in 5 of all workers and 1 in 3 of all women in work are still paid less than the living wage. In addition, more than 2 million people in the UK are out of work, and youth unemployment remains at 17.8%, with many looking for work for over a year.
The situation is the same right across Europe. Unemployment may have fallen in some countries but it remains much too high, with youth unemployment at 21.7% across the EU, and over 50% in Spain and Greece. Furthermore, like in the UK, many people who are in work are in low paid jobs on limited contracts, which often offer no real guarantee of work.
Meanwhile, several banks and big businesses are reporting record profits in a recovery that has clearly been for the few and not the many. The gap between rich and poor is widening and Europe is becoming an ever more unequal society. Even the ratings agency Standard & Poor’s has acknowledged that rising inequality is a real threat to long-term growth.
The EU can, and should, be part of the solution. It isn’t regulation from Europe that’s holding our economy back, but ideological austerity measures that are implemented with little regard for the misery they cause. Meanwhile, the protection for workers that David Cameron wants to negotiate away – like limits on working time, maternity and paternity leave and rights for part time and agency workers – are the only thing protecting workers from yet more exploitation.
It’s the same with wages. We often hear from those on the right that a higher minimum wage would see jobs lost, but in reality higher wages would stimulate demand and therefore act as a stimulus for further job creation and growth. That’s why a future Labour government would start to tackle low pay by setting the minimum wage as a specified proportion of the national average wage, rather than merely linking it to the economy. This would help to drive wages up and is a policy that Labour MEPs would like to see extended across Europe.
The EU’s priorities for the parliamentary term must be focussed on jobs and growth, and that means creating good quality jobs that offer people security and a fair wage.
I’m now a member of the European Parliament’s Employment and Social Affairs Committee and there’s lots that me and my colleagues in the Socialist and Democrat Group want to do to in order to deal with these issues.
Our main priority must be tackling the unacceptably high levels of youth unemployment and the misuse of zero hours contracts that is keeping people trapped in low-paid, precarious work.
Polls show that young people are overwhelmingly pro-European; they believe in European ideals, not just a single market for business, but a social Europe, working together to combat shared challenges. We cannot now turn our backs and leave a generation of young people feeling betrayed, and facing a bleaker future than their parents because of a financial crisis they didn’t cause. Europe must be ready to change direction and take bold action in order to put hope back into the EU economy, and Labour MEPs and our colleagues in Europe are ready to lead this charge.
Glenis Willmott, a leading MEP on health, has lambasted plans for pharmaceuticals and medical devices to be overseen by the Industry Commissioner in Juncker’s new team.
“I find it hard to believe. Medicines and medical devices are first and foremost about improving and protecting people’s health. Of course Europe’s pharmaceutical and medical technology industries are important to our economy, but our first priority must be health.”
“When I was negotiating the transparency laws for clinical trial results, it was DG Enterprise that wanted to water the rules down. Now they will be overseeing the European Medicines Agency as it implements the transparency regime, which is frankly concerning.”
“Following the breast implant scandal people expect stronger regulation of medical devices, regulation that protects patients. Clearly medical devices should be the responsibility of the Heath Commissioner.”
“This was a bad decision from President Juncker, I hope he will quickly come to his senses and rectify it.”
A Labour MEP is leading calls for more consumer-friendly alcohol labelling, and has hosted an event in the European Parliament looking at the issue.
Glenis Willmott, Labour MEP for the East Midlands, said:
“It is vital that we give consumers the information they need to make informed choices. Many people don’t realise how many calories alcohol contains.”
A standard glass of wine contains around the same amount of calories as a chocolate bar whilst a pint of beer is as calorific as a doughnut or a large pizza slice. Unlike all other food and drink, alcoholic drinks do not need to label basic information about ingredients and nutrition under EU law.
Glenis Willmott MEP added:
“It is not acceptable that we treat alcohol differently from other drinks. We are letting consumers down by refusing them this basic information.”
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex people sadly still face discrimination in the UK and elsewhere in Europe. We know the problems that remain with bullying in schools, discrimination in the workplace, and violent homophobic and transphobic attacks. What we don’t often discuss are the problems some LGBTI people face when they visit the doctor or hospital. Whilst most medical staff treat LGBTI patients with the same respect and dignity as everyone else, some are still discriminated against.
A recent survey found that 10% of LGBT people across Europe faced discrimination when going to their doctor or healthcare provider, and this figure almost doubles for transgender people. 23% of LGBT people in the UK say they are not open with any medical staff about their sexual orientation or gender identity. This is a huge problem which could have serious consequences for their health.
Of course not all health inequalities are caused by discrimination, and we need to look at the problem more widely. To do this I have proposed an EU pilot project, which was approved this week by the European Parliament’s Environment and Public Health Committee. The project will further examine health inequalities for LGBTI people, and find ways of training health professionals to effectively overcome these inequalities.
There have already been two EU projects looking at health inequalities experienced by particular social groups, such as disabled people, elderly people, or ethnic minorities, but they did not cover LGBTI people. My proposed project will look specifically at this group, but also focus on those who are at risk of double inequality, because of their age, disability, race or ethnic background.
Thankfully our society is rapidly becoming a better place for LGBTI people to live in, and the UK is consistently ranked as one of the best in Europe. But discrimination still remains, and we have to keep up the fight for equality.