ERGO Network responds to the European Commission call for evidence on minimum income

ERGO Network responds to the European Commission call for evidence on minimum income

The European Commission will release a proposal for a Council Recommendation on minimum income in the third quarter of 2022. This initiative aims to support Member States’ policies to alleviate poverty and prevent social exclusion. It is in line with principle 14 of the European Pillar of Social Rights, which states that everyone lacking sufficient resources has the right to adequate minimum income benefits ensuring a life in dignity, and access to enabling goods and services. The initiative is also part of the European delivery on the Social Pillar Action Plan, Europe’s social inclusion strategy for the period 2020-2030. In this context, the European Commission launched a public call for evidence to collect stakeholders’ input.

In its response to this call for evidence, ERGO Network brought forward the key messages of our comprehensive research report Roma access to adequate minimum income schemes in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia. We highlighted that, in a cash-based economy, providing people with adequate financial resources was a necessary pre-requisite for fighting poverty and social exclusion, as well as for enabling individuals to reach their full potential and to access rights and opportunities on the labour market and in society. Europe’s Roma experience some of the worst social inclusion indicators, with over 80% living in poverty, only 43% in paid employment, and 41% experiencing antigypsyism, a situation worsened significantly by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The upcoming Council Recommendation could make a difference, but only if Roma specific concerns are explicitly incorporated. Access to adequate income is also a key element of reducing Roma poverty, one of the 3 horizontal objectives of the EU Roma Strategic Framework on Equality, Inclusion and Participation. We urge the European Commission to foster strong synergies between the Framework and the Recommendation.

We very much welcome the framing of the Recommendation in the context of poverty reduction, recognising that minimum income schemes are the cornerstone of our European Social Model and a key pre-requisite in the fight against poverty, as well as the link to the Social Pillar Action Plan. We equally welcome the strong focus on low adequacy, including indexation. The amounts and reference indexes need to be increased in close connection to purchasing power, inflation, reference budgets, and the national poverty line, so that they can provide dignified lives. A key aspect is the impossibility to combine minimum income with other income sources (social benefits, part-time work, income generating activities). This pushes people into the grey economy, if even a school cash prize can mean benefits curtailed.

We further appreciate the drive to improve coverage and outreach, as well as take-up, particularly with a view to support access for the most vulnerable and tackle complex procedures which act as deterrents. The methodology, associated bureaucracy and corresponding costs must be simplified as well as significantly reduced, to allow for marginalised people such as many Roma to apply for and maintain their entitlements. Better access to information and support in Roma communities need to be resourced and implemented. Current means-testing and eligibility criteria are very restrictive, impairing access to rights.

We equally support the provision of integrated services, included tailored active labour market policies. We caution, however, that Public Employment Services are ill-equipped to deal with Roma applicants. Urgent investment is needed for more staff as well as anti-bias training and skills to deal in a supportive way with claimants facing multiple and complex barriers. Hiring Roma mediators also helps bridge intercultural gaps.

The Recommendation should equally combat punitive conditionality and sanctions, as well as uphold personalised approaches, supporting people through disadvantage, while condemning the presumption of guilt and the imposition of harsh conditionality and sanctions in exchange for benefits. Adequate minimum income schemes must be rooted in a rights-based approach. Tapering of benefits as a work incentive can easily lead to forcing people to accept any job, which is at odds with a supportive approach.

Fighting discrimination – both antigypsyism as well as the stigmatisation of benefit claimants as lazy – must be a core element of the Recommendation, as a significant deterrent to take-up. Blaming people as responsible for their own poverty and as abusers of the welfare state must end and be replaced by an approach of solidarity and mutual support. Widespread antigypsyism must be combated in all aspects of life.

Last but not least, frequent and structured engagement of people experiencing poverty and discrimination, including Roma, and the civil society organisations representing them is key. The direct input of minimum income beneficiaries is crucial to have evidence-based policies that actually work. Vulnerable recipients such as Roma must be involved in the design, monitoring, and implementation of the Recommendation, through outreach, field research directly in communities, clear and transparent cooperation protocols with civil society and adequate financial resources to support this work.

ERGO Network believes that a Recommendation can only go so far, and more impetus should be given to Member States from the European level, for example through a Framework Directive for Adequate Minimum Income, and a new European Year against Poverty.

For more information on ERGO Network’s engagement with minimum income and social protection, as well as with the European Pillar of Social Rights, please contact Senior Policy Adviser Amana Ferro.

April 7, 2022 – ERGO Network

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