Roma Civil Monitor: Patchy progress on social inclusion leaves Roma dangerously vulnerable in the current pandemic and the looming economic crisis

April 23, 2020

Persistent discrimination in education and the labour market, poor access to health services and residential segregation have combined to render Roma communities dangerously vulnerable in the current pandemic and the upcoming economic crisis. According to the newly published Roma Civil Monitor Synthesis Report, the most endangered members of Europe’s largest ethnic minority are third-country nationals and those Roma exercising their right to free movement in the EU.

Improvements in access to education have not led to equity in outcomes, according to the report published yesterday by the European Commission and the Centre for Policy Studies of the Central European University (CPS/CEU). Despite increased access to early childhood and primary education, and an uptake in higher education in some countries, overall the quality of education on offer remains a problem and outcomes remain far from equitable. Deficiencies in education systems combined with the failure to address discrimination by employers has led to widespread exclusion from the labour market. This renders Roma, who were already in a precarious situation, even more vulnerable and ill-equipped to cope with the upcoming economic crisis which will hit Europe hard. One of the consequences of residential segregation is a lack of access to quality public services, particularly healthcare, and the full ramifications of this are becoming apparent.  

The Synthesis Report summarises the findings concerning the four main areas of Roma inclusion  from 27 country reports written by more than 90 non-governmental organisations and individual experts participating in the Roma Civil Monitor pilot project. Synopses of the country reports are available also in form of thematic fiches and country fiches.

In all EU countries, Roma are in a markedly disadvantaged labour market position: they are less likely to be in employment; if employed, Roma are more likely to work informally, in unstable and low-paid jobs or only in public work programmes. In most countries, the gap between the Roma and non-Roma population is significantly larger among women than among men. Interestingly, the country reports show that the gap is larger in countries where Roma communities are small (such as Finland) and also where most Roma are recent immigrants (for example, Denmark). If there has been some improvement in Roma employment, it was mainly due to the overall increase in the demand for labour – the upcoming economic crisis will unfortunately probably reverse this trend,” says Agota Scharle, who authored the report’s chapter on employment.

When it comes to housing, many Roma across the EU live in housing that is of lower quality compared to the mainstream population and often face environmental discrimination, as they are pushed into polluted and hazardous areas. According to Nora Teller, who authored the report’s chapter on housing, “The pace of the improvement of the housing situation of Roma has not kept up with the pace of the economic development and progress made in Europe. Despite slow improvement, which had been in part achieved by conscious upgrading of disadvantaged Roma neighbourhoods or settlements, there is still a 20 to 40-year gap between the general population and the Roma population’s housing conditions.” Teller concludes: “Even if some EU countries have launched interventions addressing the living conditions in Roma areas, the major shortcoming in Europe concerns dismantling segregation. Moreover, in countries where non-sedentary Roma communities live, the application of the right to adequate housing is hindered by the lack of availability of halting sites with adequate services.

The author of the report’s chapter on healthcare, Balazs Varadi, emphasises that: “Today, under the threat of the pandemic, we realise that health is a critical dimension of human life. Suffering caused by diseases, having a shorter lifespan than is medically possible, or living with disabilities is a terrible affliction for any individual or social group in and of itself, an affliction that health care policies are there to mitigate. The overwhelming majority of Roma in the EU display worse indicators in all these areas. For example, in the case of life expectancy, the difference between Roma and non-Roma is between five and 20 years. That should be a clarion call to action for policy makers. While some of the determinants of such terrible health inequalities are beyond the limits of health policy and are due to poor living standards and housing, low income, or geography, lessening the gap should still be a primary goal for any political community. Improving health outcomes for the Roma would also have positive spill-over effects to other areas, from education to employment to income levels.”

The Member States’ governments designed their national Roma integration strategies tailored to their political will and financial opportunities. From the Roma Civil Monitoring it is clear they did not allocate enough finances for Roma educational inclusion. In several countries progress has been made on the legislative level, but their implementation of the NRIS is weak. Further, poor implementation efforts, limited scope and improper design limits the impacts of the measures planned in the strategies,” says Marko Pecak, author of the report’s chapter on education, who stresses: “Member States do not recognise how discrimination and exclusion influence Roma students’ and their families’ motivations and aspirations. Instead, policies and programs discount the educational systems’ role in aspiration development, which contributes to and reinforces a false narrative that educational aspirations are related to Roma culture.”

The Synthesis Report recommends that Member States should strengthen data collection on the situation of Roma in respective policy fields, as well as on the extent and impact of their policies on Roma inclusion. A condition for successful Roma inclusion is monitoring and enforcement of anti-discrimination policies in all fields, but in particular in the labour market and countering segregation in education and housing. As Marek Hojsik, co-editor of the report and manager of the Roma Civil Monitor pilot project, says: “The problem of residential segregation is key. It has many forms, from physically or symbolically separated neighbourhoods, through remote settlements or halting sites for Travellers, to whole segregated villages, but in every case the residential segregation leads to deprivation of access to public services and the labour market – which are both necessary for successful social, economic and civic participation.

The Roma Civil Monitor is a project initiated by the European Parliament and managed by the European Commission, Directorate General for Justice and Consumers. It has been implemented since 2017 by the Center for Policy Studies at Central European University (CEU), in partnership with the European Roma Grassroots Organisations Network (ERGO), the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), the Fundación Secretariado Gitano (FSG) and the Roma Education Fund (REF). The objective of the project is to contribute to strengthening the monitoring mechanisms of the implementation of the national Roma integration strategies through systematic civil society monitoring.