By decision of the United Nations, every year on February 20 the importance of human rights and social security is highlighted, and the fight against poverty, exclusion, gender inequality and unemployment is called for. All these issues have gained additional relevance as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.
A right to work, health, housing and protection against discrimination: These are just some of the social rights enshrined in the European Social Charter which have, however, come under massive pressure in the wake of the current crisis. The effects of this are hitting those particularly hard who were already marginalized before the crisis. Karin Lukas, President of the European Committee of Social Rights and Programme Line Manager at the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Fundamental and Human Rights (LBI-GMR): "Shortly after the outbreak of the pandemic, it became clear that people were suffering to different degrees from the burden of the crisis. Marginalized groups, women and the youngest or oldest in particular are disproportionately affected by the crisis, and it exacerbates already precarious working and living conditions even further."
The COVID-19 pandemic led to (more or less) comprehensive social policy responses in almost all European countries. In many places, record sums were invested in the implementation or expansion of social security systems. As a result, the welfare state and its role as a potential guarantor of social rights once again became the focus of public attention.
Austria also responded comprehensively to the crisis. A well-developed health care system in this country has spared us images like those from northern Italy, and the comprehensive sociopolitical response has prevented mass unemployment and a slide of broad sections of the population into poverty. "However, in Austria, too, the pandemic is leading to inequalities that already existed before the crisis being further deepened and new inequalities being created," Lukas said. "Guaranteeing social rights for all is a fundamental building block for a socially just society, and the welfare state is the central lever for realizing them. Especially in the face of the enormous challenges brought about by the COVID-19 crisis, it is important to strengthen it sustainably and also beyond the crisis."
Together with the Austrian Chamber of Labour (AK) and funded by the AK Science Network, the LBI-GMR is currently conducting research on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on marginalized groups and their social rights. A cross-national comparison of socio-political crisis measures should also make it possible to classify the scope and innovation of national crisis responses, to identify socio-political trends and developments at the European level and to contribute to an improved access to the European welfare state debate.