"I'm broke, but I'm happy. I'm poor, but I'm kind… I'm young, and I'm underpaid. I'm tired, but I'm working" goes the famous song "Hand In My Pocket" by Canadian-American singer Alanis Morrissette. Despite the cheerful tone of the first part, nearly 30 years after the song's first release, the second part reflects the sad reality of a growing number of people around Europe, in particular young people.
In times in which more than one in five people in the EU are at risk of poverty and social exclusion - 94.5 million people in total in 2021, representing 21.7% of the EU's total population – it is high time we made our social protection systems more effective, making sure "that everything's gonna be quite all right". This is where the minimum income comes into play.
Minimum income: more than just pocket money
Minimum income is monetary income support given as a last resort to persons living in households that do not have sufficient resources for a life in dignity. It is means-tested, which means that a person has to be poor to get it. While minimum income schemes exist in all Member States, analysis shows that they are not always adequate: they fail to either reach all those in need or motivate people to return to the labour market.
"Against a backdrop of soaring living costs and uncertainty, we must ensure our safety nets are up to the task. We should pay particular attention to getting young people back into work also through income support, so they do not get trapped in a vicious cycle of exclusion", rightly underlined European Commission Nicolas Schmit, when he presented the European Commission's proposal on adequate minimum income last September.
At a time when many people struggle to make ends meet, we must ensure our safety nets are up to the task.— European Commission 🇪🇺 (@EU_Commission) September 28, 2022
Today we proposed recommendations to make sure that EU countries’ minimum income schemes are adequate, reach those in need & improve access to labour market.#SocialRights
The proposal calls on Member States to modernise their minimum income schemes to make them more effective, by improving the adequacy of income support, the coverage and take-up of minimum income, and the access to inclusive labour markets as well as to essential services. They are also encouraged to promote individualised support, monitoring and reporting mechanisms, and increase the effectiveness of governance of social safety nets at EU, national, regional and local level. So, what is the role of cities and regions in making the right to adequate minimum income a reality for all?
Cities and regions, laying safety nets on the ground
Local and regional authorities play a key role in reaching out to people in need, who are often not registered anywhere. They are also very important for the design and delivery of individualised assistance to the poorest members of our societies. This is what makes them the best allies in pushing forward this fundamental principle of the European Pillar of Social Rights, which is proven by their commitment to real action on the ground. Even if cities do not have formal competences on minimum income, many of them are piloting minimum income projects, for instance for the most deprived neighbourhoods, thereby building a more inclusive and fairer Europe from the ground.
PES Group member Anne Karjalainen, Chair of Kerava City Council in Finland, is leading the debate in the European Committee of the Regions.
“The Recommendation on minimum income is a step in the right direction, but the urgent need for action to guarantee a minimum income across the EU begs further reflection about the most effective regulatory framework to implement such measures at EU level.”— PES Group Committee of the Regions (@PES_CoR) February 9, 2023
🗨️ @annekarjalainen pic.twitter.com/7nMFuh4SZA
In her draft opinion, which was adopted at last week's plenary session, she makes a series of concrete recommendations to the Commission's proposal, including:
- A shorter timeline for the implementation of the recommendation by 2027, in order to reach the headline target of reducing poverty by 15 million by 2030;
- Minimum income helping people rise above, even if it is very slightly, the at-risk-of poverty threshold;
- The consideration of a more effective regulatory framework at European level to tackle poverty than the proposed recommendation, which is soft law;
- A mandatory annual review at Member State level of minimum income levels so that they follow inflation trends;
- Need for clarification of the terms "proportionate" or "gradual" action referred to in the Recommendation;
- Definitions of enabling and essential services to be complemented rather than replaced by national definitions, to ensure the inclusion of digital communications, which do not have the status of an essential service throughout the EU.
Minimum income: What it all comes down to…
Is that progressive cities and regions are allied in their battle for a binding safety net for all with their counterparts in the European Parliament. As Estrella Durá Ferrandis (ES/S&D), MEP and co-rapporteur on the European Parliament’s resolution on adequate minimum income ensuring active inclusion, which will be adopted at the March European Parliament plenary session, said: "It is necessary to ensure that all people in a vulnerable situation or at risk of poverty are covered by a minimum income scheme, complementary to other employment and social support schemes, guaranteeing a decent income for those who need it most. In order to combat poverty and growing social inequalities, binding EU legislation is needed to ensure decent minimum income schemes in all EU countries, and to foster the integration of all people into a quality labour market."
Today we have secured a joint call of @EPSocialAffairs for a much-needed European legislation on the minimum income scheme 💪— S&D Group (@TheProgressives) January 24, 2023
Time to help families in need to pay the bills and live in dignity!
More from @estrella_dura and @a_jongerius here 👇https://t.co/KvLaFfZuJD
The common fight for social inclusion remains at the very core of our political family and will be on top of the agenda for a much-needed truly Social Europe ahead of next year's European elections: be it on adequate minimum wages to ensure that work pays for a decent living, the European Child Guarantee to give children free and effective access to key services; or the European Care Strategy to improve the situation especially of women and people in the care sector - progressives at all levels will lead the fight for effective social inclusion and employment and ensure that no one is left behind.
© Photo credits: unsplash / Ümit Yıldırım