Monday

18th Dec 2017

Opinion

Mind the gap: inequality in our cities

  • Barcelona is a willing 'guinea pig' in EU pilot projects for forms of the minimum wage, according to its deputy mayor Laia Ortiz (Photo: Paulina)

Growing poverty and inequality across European cities is putting a strain on the European social model.

We need to rethink how welfare instruments provide social justice. One impact of the financial crisis has been to reignite debate on how a minimum guaranteed income can ensure a life of dignity for all.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

The European Pillar of Social Rights is an opportunity to strengthen social cohesion through a fairer and more equitable redistribution of wealth. Its 'Principle 14' says that everyone lacking sufficient resources has the right to adequate minimum income benefits, ensuring a life of dignity at all stages of life.

There are several elements to the debate.

Existing social welfare models are typically linked to conditions or obligations, are means-tested and act counter-cyclically.

Minimum wage and minimum income are the most commonly used and understood. In some places, such as the UK, there is also discussion about a living wage, a kind of minimum wage reflecting the differentiated cost of living in cities, already in affect in several cities.

A universal basic income, on the other hand, implies a government commitment to pay an unconditional benefit to all citizens, regardless of whether they are in work or not, and this option is getting higher on EU political agendas.

The European Parliament, for instance, recently adopted it in a report on minimum income policies as a potential tool for fighting poverty. The possible benefits of basic income include promoting a better work-life balance, to allow people to move in and out of employment according to changing circumstances, by providing income security or avoiding the poverty trap of current minimum income schemes.

Generating a better understanding of how these different models can lift people out of poverty will benefit better European social policy and lead to stronger social cohesion in Europe.

Theory into practice

Currently a lot of vulnerable people, such as the homeless, long-term unemployed or Roma people, find it difficult to access welfare entitlements due to lengthy and complex procedures.

This means that welfare is not distributed as it should be, creating inequality within the same city, region or country. Basic income would solve the problem of accessibility to the right to minimum income.

While the level of minimum wage or minimum income is determined by central government, in consultation with the social partners, city authorities have a big role to play in implementing it at local level to see what works and under which conditions.

In Barcelona, we are piloting four different minimum income models at the same time, over a two-year period to make a comparison between them.

Some 1,000 families have been selected and randomly allocated into four groups to test the four policy options, receiving different grants.

Participants of one group will continue receiving a minimum income of €403-663 per month (and additional quantities for each additional member of the household) even after they find work while the others will not, in an effort to test the effects of these policies on their behaviour.

By the end of this project we expect to better understand what type of intervention most effectively reduces poverty by better relating support services with people that need them.

We can make the European social pillar more impactful by taking account of the findings of experiences at the local level.

Localising the European social pillar

Cities are the right scale to implement this kind of initiative.

Through our membership in Eurocities, the network of major European cities, Barcelona is working with other cities to better link economic and social policies.

Utrecht and Helsinki have their own projects on minimum income, and we can always learn from each other's experience in this and other areas.

Cities can contribute with their knowledge and experience from the ground to European social policy like the European Pillar of Social Rights.

At the local level, we can implement and monitor the principles and rights from the social pillar.

Through Eurocities, we can feed back into EU social policies with evidence based on mutual learning and peer reviews between cities. This can help to capture the diverse social situations within member states' local realities, which aggregate figures based on national or regional averages are not able to do.

The social scoreboard indicators of the social pillar, such as the ones on inequality, living conditions and poverty, and the impact of public policies on reducing poverty, will also help improve European level social policies by adding data from the local level.

Cities are ready to work with the EU institutions and member states to find ways to tangibly improve people's lives. We want to contribute to an EU that puts people's concerns at the heart of policy.

Ultimately social rights should be available for all citizens.

This was the key message from EUROCITIES recent social affairs forum in Gothenburg, ahead of the EU Social Summit, where cities committed to our statement 'Social Rights for All'. There, we showed that by working together at local level, where we are closest to citizens, we can develop a stronger social Europe.

Laia Ortiz is deputy mayor of Barcelona and chair of the Eurocities Social Affairs Forum

Germany adopts minimum wage

The German parliament has approved the introduction of a minimum wage of €8.50 per hour from 2015 on, a policy shift that could boost growth elsewhere in Europe.

Iceland: further from EU membership than ever

With fewer pro-EU MPs in the Iceland parliament than ever before, any plans to resume 'candidate' membership of the bloc are likely to remain on ice, as the country prioritises national sovereignty and a more left-wing path.

News in Brief

  1. EU adopts 'track-and-trace' tobacco system
  2. Luxembourg appeals Amazon tax decision
  3. EU leaders agree to open phase 2 of Brexit talks
  4. Juncker: May made 'big efforts' on Brexit
  5. Merkel took 'tough' line on Russia at EU summit
  6. EU leaders added line supporting 'two-state' solution
  7. EU leaders agree to 20 European Universities by 2024
  8. Belgian courts end legal proceedings against Puigdemont

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Dialogue PlatformThe Gülen Community: Who to Believe - Politicians or Actions?" by Thomas Michel
  2. Plastics Recyclers Europe65% plastics recycling rate attainable by 2025 new study shows
  3. European Heart NetworkCommissioner Andriukaitis' Address to EHN on the Occasion of Its 25th Anniversary
  4. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  5. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  6. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  8. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  9. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  10. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap
  11. European Friends of ArmeniaEU-Armenia Relations in the CEPA Era: What's Next?
  12. Mission of China to the EU16+1 Cooperation Injects New Vigour Into China-EU Ties

Latest News

  1. Catalonia, Brexit, and Uber on EU agenda This WEEK
  2. Macron and Merkel take tough line on Poland
  3. Eurozone future needs structural reforms, EU leaders told
  4. Showdown EU vote on asylum looking likely for next June
  5. EU stresses unity as it launches next phase of Brexit talks
  6. Polish PM ready for EU sanctions scrap
  7. Dutchman to lead powerful euro working group
  8. EU mulls post-Brexit balance of euro and non-eurozone states

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSUEU Blacklist of Tax Havens Is a Sham
  2. EU2017EERole of Culture in Building Cohesive Societies in Europe
  3. ILGA EuropeCongratulations to Austria - Court Overturns Barriers to Equal Marriage
  4. Centre Maurits CoppietersCelebrating Diversity, Citizenship and the European Project With Fundació Josep Irla
  5. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceUnderstanding the Social Consequences of Obesity
  6. Union for the MediterraneanMediterranean Countries Commit to Strengthening Women's Role in Region
  7. Bio-Based IndustriesRegistration for BBI JU Stakeholder Forum about to close. Last chance to register!
  8. European Heart NetworkThe Time Is Ripe for Simplified Front-Of-Pack Nutrition Labelling
  9. Counter BalanceNew EU External Investment Plan Risks Sidelining Development Objectives
  10. EU2017EEEAS Calls for Eastern Partnership Countries to Enter EU Market Through Estonia
  11. Dialogue PlatformThe Turkey I No Longer Know
  12. World Vision7 Million Children at Risk in the DRC: Donor Meeting to Focus on Saving More Lives