Europe needs decisive action towards a minimum income to fight poverty

This is an opinion article by an external contributor. The views belong to the writer.
Europe needs decisive action towards a minimum income to fight poverty

Before the coronavirus crisis, one in five people in the EU were at risk of poverty and social exclusion. That is nearly 110 million people without enough money to make ends meet and live a dignified life.

The EU has failed to meet the poverty target of its Europe 2020 strategy, set in 2010. As millions more are being dragged into poverty by the pandemic, the credibility of a more social Europe is threatened. This is no time for business as usual.

The COVID-19 crisis has exposed the weakness of European welfare states, as gaps leave people unprotected, in vulnerable situations without any sources of income. Such gaps can and must be prevented with an EU framework on minimum income schemes.

In its new annual Report on Poverty and Social Exclusion, Caritas Italiana notes a surge of people experiencing poverty this year: from May to September 2020 nearly one in two people (45%, up from 31% in 2019) turned to Caritas for help for the first time, according to the report released in October.

Meanwhile, Caritas Spain reported that it has received 25% more demands for help from people in homelessness. The situation is similar in other European countries, according to the first-hand impressions of Caritas organisations working all over the continent.

One of the best ways to prevent people falling into poverty is to build individual and societal resilience. Strong social protection systems are the cornerstone of such resilience.

Minimum income bridges the gap for those ineligible to access other rights and who do not have any other, or only insufficient, income. In that sense, Member States should invest in preventing as much as possible that people end up in a minimum income scheme, which should be used only as a last resort.

In this context, adequate, accessible and enabling minimum income schemes have an essential role to play as the ultimate safety net. The EU Council recognised this on 12 October, issuing Council Conclusions on “Strengthening Minimum Income Protection to Combat Poverty and Social Exclusion in the COVID-19 Pandemic and Beyond.”

These conclusions invite the Commission to “initiate an update of the Union framework to effectively support and complement the policies of Member States on national minimum income protection”.

Following the Council Conclusions on Minimum Income, Caritas Europa, together with the European Anti-Poverty Network, the European Trade Union Confederation, Eurodiaconia and Social Platform, has called on the European Commission to respond with courage and propose a legally binding EU framework for Minimum Income.

This proposal would be one of the key EU initiatives in the upcoming Action Plan to implement the European Pillar of Social Rights, due to be launched in early 2021. It is a proposal that could reunite the EU Member States around a shared political and moral commitment to end poverty and social exclusion, for a Europe that promotes decent living, decent working conditions and social rights.

It is a proposal that could help restore faith in the European project. It is a proposal that is legally and politically feasible, building on existing EU competencies in the social and cohesion policy fields, fully respecting principles of subsidiarity and proportionality and thus protecting national competencies.

A Framework Directive on Minimum Income would be remembered as the new Commission’s flagship initiative that guarantees a right to an adequate income to the people in the poorest and most vulnerable situations, demonstrating to all that the EU delivers on its promises and prioritises protecting people as well as planet, in its commitment to a social, inclusive and sustainable recovery.

The call for an EU framework directive on minimum income, launched by Caritas Europa and partner organisations, received the support by a number of organisations and policy makers.

As Pope Francis says in his message on the occasion of the World Day of the Poor: “Until we revive our sense of responsibility for our neighbour and for every person, grave economic, financial and political crises will continue”. The time for action is now! The ball is now in the court of the European Commission.

By Shannon Pfohman

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