24th Mar 2023

Lack of adequate minimum income will leave 95 million in poverty

  • In 2021, one in four children in Europe was at risk of poverty or social exclusion. (Photo: Unsplash)
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"Sometimes I notice that mum doesn't buy certain things. I hear her saying she got a letter about unpaid bills, and that we need to use less water. So, I try to shower less, and I don't really dare drink water when I'm at home." That was a Finnish child, talking to the NGO Save The Children, more associated with poverty in the Global South.

In 2021, one-in-four children in Europe was at risk of poverty or social exclusion. The situation is even more alarming in countries like Spain and Romania, where child poverty rates stood at around 33 percent and 41.5 percent respectively.

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"I have a part-time job, but I need the help of friends to get clothes for my daughters. Although difficult, I manage to cover their basic needs," said a mother living in Spain to Save The Children, for an upcoming report on the implementation of the European child guarantee seen by EUobserver.

"I usually don't eat any fruit. There is no fruit in my home — we don't buy it", mentioned another 13-year-old child living in the same country.

Poverty has many more faces beyond the financial one: poor mental health, unhealthy nutrition, lower academic or work performance, risk of social exclusion, inadequate housing or lack of access to basic services such as heating or water.

Certain backgrounds are also more exposed than others, such as single-parent families, children from low-income households, refugees, migrants, or people with disabilities, to name but a few.

The pandemic, war, and inflation have only worsened a situation that already required urgent action. In 2022, Caritas Europa noted 40 percent more applicants for social services, they tell EUobserver.

By 2030, the EU aims to reduce the number of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion by 15 million, to 95 million. However, there are only two EU Council recommendations on the table — that is, two instruments with no legal obligation for member states.

The first is the European Child Guarantee. The second, the Minimum Income Schemes (MIS).

MIS are mechanisms designed to offer support to those who do not have a job, or even if they do, cannot make ends meet.

Currently, all EU member states have similar schemes, but only two of them — Ireland and the Netherlands— ensure that this coverage is above the poverty line. And in seven countries, these schemes are below 40 percent of the average household income.

It is not just about giving access to a minimum income, but also about an adequate one. "It is important for everyone in Europe to have this kind of safety net to ensure there will always be an income that is really adequate to cover all basic needs (housing, food, etc)," said the Green MEP Sara Matthieu during a Q&A held in the European Parliament.

For example, in Spain, the minimum income for a woman with two children like the one who spoke to Save the Children is

€904.60. If she had had a third child, the amount would be €170 higher.

Meanwhile, the average rent price in Spain at the beginning of 2023 was €896.80 per month for an 80 square metre house, which would fit three or four people.

MEPs from various political groups want to push for a new law that raises this coverage and guarantees a wider scope.

Social Platform, a network of European and social NGOs, agrees that a directive is needed to see real (and necessary) change, as well as tackling the non-take-up of those entitled to these schemes.

"We think a soft low measure is unlikely to reach as much progress as we need to see by 2030," explained senior policy officer Robert Ranson to EUobserver, on the issuing of the council's recommendation in January.

What is also missing is a proactive provision of benefits, more online and offline solutions, and some personal approach to help with language difficulties, Ranson adds.

The parliament's resolution was due to be voted on in February, but Kurdish protests in Strasbourg delayed it until the March session.

For Matthieu, matching words with actions will be key to ending poverty in the EU. "Most member states do have the means to do it. They just choose not to".

Netherlands tops EU social safety net for the poor

The Netherlands is the only EU state where the minimum income is above the poverty line. A minimum income is not a wage but rather a social safety net to ensure people do not end up destitute.

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The number of tents of asylum seekers sleeping rough along the canal in the centre of Brussels continues to mount. Over a week ago, the Flemish Refugee Action, a Brussels-based NGO, counted 60. On Thursday (23 February), EUobserver counted 122.

MEPs demand directive for adequate EU minimum income

MEPs' call for a directive includes three essential points: coverage above the poverty line, better accessibility, and adequacy, so they reach everyone who is entitled to receive this support.


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