Mr Palm's address during the launching of the Progress Report of the National Strategy for Social Inclusion on 1 November 2010
Ministers and Deputy Ministers, Excellencies, colleagues and Friends,
Let me start with some congratulations. First, I like to applaud government for having a strategy that seeks to eliminate the risks of social exclusion. Social exclusion may remain during and even threaten otherwise remarkable economic growth. Second, I wish to congratulate the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunity to prepare the evidence and publicize the first progress report on the strategy. This will help results- and performance oriented policy implementation. And finally, let me acknowledge all those who contributed to the admirable progress made over the last year in terms of poverty reduction and social inclusion, which I trust Mr. Sulka will discuss in more detail.
Social inclusion involves many spheres of life. To illustrate the "cross-cutting" nature of social inclusion, let me use the image of a child born to a young mother from a disadvantaged group. The mother may be too young herself to care well for the child. The child may miss out on being registered at birth. Because of poor housing the child may become ill more often than others. The family may not seek the services of the health system, as they are not sure what service to get, or whether or not they have to pay. The child may grow up without the intellectual or social stimulation that all our own children are used to. After three years, unless supported by local or state services, the child may already have lost up to one year of cognitive, intellectual, social and emotional stimulation. By the time it enters school it may be even further behind, and at risk of dropping out. It may be at risk of coming in conflict with the law. Once this happens, he may spend a long time in detention awaiting trial, being again isolated and excluded. From the perspective of a child, it is not right that it will not get its chances in life because it is born to a poor family. Life is not a lottery.
So, the strategy rightly describes the role of every sector - health, education, housing, or special entitlements to ensure social inclusion. Most importantly, as I illustrated, it is usually the same people who tend to be excluded in all sectors. Children of those entitled to ndihma ekonomike are also the children with higher mortality, less school attendance and learning achievement, and poor employment opportunities. That's why every sector, ministry or department need to coordinate its inclusion policies and programmes with the others.
The moral imperative to social inclusion is based on the international human rights conventions ratified by Albania. There are also clear economic reasons to be more inclusive. We know that each Euro invested in the early development of marginalized children is likely to bring seven Euro back when this child enters the labor market. Investments in children are the investments with the highest economic return. Privately, we ensure the best health and education of our children, even at great sacrifice, because we know that it is the best use of our resources. As a country, we now pay the hidden cost of exclusion, high morbidity, malnutrition, crime, security measures, unemployment, prisons, substance abuse, social unrest. It is much more cost-effective to make investments to ensure that every child and every person will be actively invited to participate in economic and social life.
Finally, I look forward to discussions with all ministries in the sector working group on social inclusion led by the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunity. The group is essential to fulfill the main three objectives of the social inclusion strategy: First to have forum a for monitoring commitment and progress in all relevant sectors (including by local institutions) and review whether we have sufficient statistical information; second to identify any policy gaps that still need to be addressed, including those identified in the progress report; and third to help prepare a Social Inclusion Action Plan as required for European Integration.
Together, let's use the evidence advanced in the progress report to address the causes and effects of disadvantage and help to provide equal access to social, economic and political opportunities. UNICEF and the United Nations are ready to assist in this.