ERGO Network responds to EC call for evidence on poverty

ERGO Network responds to the European Commission call for evidence on poverty and inequality

As announced in the Action Plan of the European Pillar of Social Rights (2021), the European Commission plans to release, in 2022, a communication on poverty and inequality, aimed at providing guidance for Member States on optimising their use of distributional impact assessments, so that they can better identify the expected effect of reforms and investments on the income of different groups. A call for evidence was launched, in order to gather stakeholder views.

ERGO Network welcomes the recognition that income inequality has increased in the European Union since 2008, and agrees that including ex-ante distributional impact assessments should be prioritised by Member States, with a view to mainstreaming the fight against poverty and inequality in other policy fields. We further appreciate the ambition to look at the disposable income of different groups of the population, as not everybody is impacted in the same way.

Most Roma in Europe experience both relative and absolute levels of poverty and social exclusion, with rates multiple times higher than those for non-Roma. In many Member States, social protection is set at inadequate levels which don’t allow for dignified lives. Getting serious about fighting poverty means stepping up public investment in social infrastructure, which should be financed through progressive taxation, staying true to a redistribution approach and mitigating social polarisation. Enacting an EU Framework Directive on Minimum Income, based on art 153, 1, h TFEU, would be an essential first step in tackling income inequality.

Distributional impact assessments implemented by Member States should be mindful of deeply-rooted, widespread discrimination as a key cause of inequality in accessing rights, resources, and services. The upcoming Commission communication must enshrine strong synergies with the EU Strategic Framework for Roma Equality, Participation and Inclusion, where reducing Roma poverty is an explicit cross-cutting priority. It is crucial that the European Commission closely monitors the implementation of distributional impact assessments by Member States, including in the framework of the Macroeconomic Imbalances Procedure and the European Semester and the National Recovery and Resilience Plans.

ERGO Network and its national members stand ready to provide policy input and direct grassroot evidence to inform the shaping of the Commission communication, as well as the subsequent development and reinforcing of distributional impact assessments at national level, with a view to ensure that Roma-specific concerns and the link with antigypsyism are taken on board in a comprehensive way.

  • Read our full input to the call for evidence here!

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

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.

ERGO Network responds to the European Commission call for evidence for the upcoming EU Care Strategy

ERGO Network responds to the European Commission call for evidence for the upcoming EU Care Strategy

The European Care Strategy was announced by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in her State of the Union speech of September 2021. The Strategy would be aimed at supporting “men and women in finding the best care and the best life balance for them.” The initiative will consist of two Council Recommendations, on childcare (revision of the Barcelona targets) and long-term care, as envisaged under the European Pillar of Social Rights. It aims to strengthen gender equality and social fairness, as well as highlight the need for high-quality, accessible and affordable care services for children and people who need long-term care. In this context, the European Commission launched a three-fold call for evidence, to which ERGO Network responded, inviting stakeholders to submit their views on the European Care Strategy overall, as well as separately on the revision of the Barcelona targets on childcare, and on access to affordable and high-quality long-term care.

We welcome that the initiative will be rooted in a fundamental rights-based approach, including non-discrimination and social inclusion. It will also focus on social investment as well as healthy ageing and prevention policies, and it acknowledges of poor wages and working conditions in the care sector. We support proposed links with the European Pillar of Social Rights, the Sustainable Development Goals and strategies on Ageing, Gender Equality, Disability and the Child Guarantee. However, we also urge strong synergies with the EU Roma Strategic Framework & the EU Anti-Racism Action Plan. We appreciate the explicit mention of Roma and minority ethnic children, but adults must also be considered: older Roma, Roma with disabilities and Roma carers. Their specific needs should be prioritised and the care gap between Roma and non-Roma reduced. Statistical monitoring should be disaggregated by ethnic background when measuring progress.

Europe’s Roma have a 5 to 10-year shorter life expectancy compared to others, while 22% have a longstanding illness / health problem, 28% feel limited by their state of health, and 55% of Roma women aged 50+ are in bad health, according to the Fundamental Rights Agency. Older Roma experience additional difficulties, due to a life spent in poverty, health inequalities and increased health risks and vulnerability to chronic diseases. Low employment rates and overrepresentation in low-paid work give access to no or poor pension entitlements.

Additionally, older Roma women experience bad health, low employment records and exposure to gender-based violence and intersectional discrimination. Efforts must also be made to ensure that Roma living with a physical or mental disability or chronic illness can benefit on equal footing from available support schemes (income support, care services etc). An independent living approach to long-term care must be supported, promoting deinstitutionalisation while ensuring the burden of care does not fall on relatives. For centuries, Roma children have been left behind regarding a good start in life. Only 53% of young Roma children attend early childhood education and care, with participation rates far below the EU’s Education and Training Strategy targets in 5 Member States. The initiative must aim to end segregation and foster the capacity of early childhood education and care staff to provide diversity education and awareness about Roma language, culture, and history.

Over 80% of Europe’s Roma are in poverty. Care costs are prohibitive and administrative obstacles are deterrents to obtaining insurance. Many Roma communities are not covered by childcare or long-term care services, forcing residents to undertake expensive, lengthy journeys. Additionally, many Roma face language barriers and a lack of identity papers, legal address, bank account and literacy skills. Efforts are also needed to tackle the digital divide in care, ensuring that vulnerable users such as the Roma have free or affordable access to equipment (PC, tablet), infrastructure (coverage, internet, electricity etc) and digital skills. The Strategy should seek to remove financial and nonfinancial barriers to access, while resisting attempts towards the commodification and privatisation of care. Free and comprehensive state service provision must be support instead, through consistent public investment in care as a common good. Investment is needed in community-based services, including social economy initiatives, to create local jobs and respond to community needs where they arise.

There is an ethnic dimension of the care sector, as care work is deeply racialised. Many Roma women and women of colour are employed as carers in facilities or households. The initiative should tackle the gender and ethnic pay and pension gap, as well as fight discrimination in the workplace, supporting the implementation of the Racial Equality and Employment Equality Directives. Only 16% of Roma women are employed, while 40% of them (and even 50% in some countries) are not seeking work because of care responsibilities. Gender stereotypes and traditional gender roles must be tackled. Parents and caregivers should enjoy work-life balance & flexibility to spend adequate, quality time with their children.

Antigypsyism deters access to childcare and long-term care services, with 41% of Roma report being discriminated by services. The Strategy must mainstream the fight against racism and discrimination from an intersectional perspective, combating antigypsyism, sexism, ageism, and ableism as well as the stigma associated to living in poverty. Care services staff should provide inclusive and respectful care, as well as receive anti-bias and diversity training combined with awareness raising of specific Roma care needs. Employing more Roma staff also helps bridge gaps. The health and education Roma mediators’ scheme must be scaled up, with the mediators formally recognised and paid adequately to reflect their added value.

If the European Care Strategy is to be successful and respond in an effective way to actual needs on the ground, stakeholder involvement and ownership are paramount. The processes around this initiative must closely associate care givers and care receivers from a wide variety of backgrounds, including the Roma, as well as the civil society organisations representing them, in the design, delivery, and evaluation of care policies, in a structured, resourced, and transparent way . ERGO Network and its national members will continue to closely monitor and contribute to the work around the shaping of the Strategy, in order to ensure that the concerns, rights, and inclusion of Europe’s Roma are duly taken into account.

ERGO Network Snapshot of Access to Essential Services

ERGO Network Snapshot of Access to Essential Services

Check out this week’s Snapshot in our series #Roma & the European Pillar of #SocialRights! Many Roma communities are located far from key services, forcing residents to undertake expensive and lengthy journeys, while Roma consumers are faced with deeply rooted, widespread discrimination and antigypsyism when trying to access services.

#SocialPillar4Roma

Read the full Snapshot here: https://bit.ly/3Ikjjye

ERGO Network Snapshot of Housing and assistance for the homeless

ERGO Network Snapshot of Housing and assistance for the homeless

Check out this week’s Snapshot in our series #Roma & the European Pillar of #SocialRights! Many Roma face severe obstacles in accessing quality and affordable housing, hence they live in substandard conditions, in segregated informal settlements, often in environmentally hazardous areas, while constantly being threatened with eviction even from these spaces.

#SocialPillar4Roma

Read the full snapshot here: https://bit.ly/3EllCyT

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