EU failure on poverty goals is not an option: why the solution starts with minimum income

In March this year, the European Parliament took a significant step forward in the fight against poverty in Europe. At a time when the cost of living is simply too high for so many people, MEPs sent a bold message calling for an EU framework directive on minimum income. For the EU to meet its goals on reducing poverty, it’s imperative that we listen to that call. 

We don’t have to look far to see the impact poverty is having across Europe. The insecurity and instability of recent years has exacerbated the precarious position that millions of people were already facing.  

What the global pandemic, the invasion of Ukraine and the rising cost of living have all demonstrated, is how truly vulnerable our societies are. Rather than being resilient to current and future crises, where we can rely on robust social protection for all, EU member states have been allowing people to fall through the gaps without an adequate safety net to catch them. Currently 95.3 million in the EU are estimated to be at risk of poverty and social exclusion – with one in five being children.  

The EU’s headline poverty target is to reduce the number of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion by at least 15 million by 2030. There is no doubt that this problem requires increased ambition and commitment to turn the tables on poverty in Europe. However, when you look closely at national social safety nets in place in the EU, despite some areas of progress, they are far from meeting the standard of support that is needed. Shockingly, there are currently no minimum income schemes in any EU member state that guarantee recipients can live above the poverty line.  

Without the security of being entitled to a minimum standard of living, it is little wonder that Eurobarometer’s 2022 survey found that 82% of Europeans are concerned about poverty and social exclusion. As one of the last defences against poverty for people in vulnerable situations, minimum income schemes are a lifeline for people who, whether in or out of employment, would otherwise lack sufficient resources to live in dignity.  

Over the past couple of years, political momentum has been building to ensure these critical social safety nets are strengthened, including a Council Recommendation on minimum income adopted in January 2023. However, with member states failing for years to adjust their schemes, a much bigger push will be required if the EU is ever to achieve its targets on combating poverty.  

To set the EU on the path that will bring tangible, impactful change in its fight against poverty, we must go beyond recommendations and enforce binding measures.  It is time to champion an EU framework directive that will demand that everyone, no matter where you live in the EU, has access to a decent standard of living. 

It is crucial that the European Parliament’s call for stronger action on protecting the most vulnerable back in March, including the call for an EU directive, does not lose its potency. With the EU’s failure to achieve its previous poverty goal being labelled a “defeat for social rights” by the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, a second failure cannot be an option.  

The upcoming EU elections are an opportunity for European parties to show their ambition for the next mandate and commit to binding legislation that will ensure a minimum standard of living for all. Through our ‘Over the Line’ campaign Social Platform and our members will be pushing for candidates to champion an EU Directive that will not only protect people in vulnerable situations, but will future-proof our societies for the challenges ahead.