Time to take action to reduce poverty and social exclusion! Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights presents initial findings of mission to the EU

On 29 January 2021, Social Platform participated in a virtual press conference of Olivier de Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, in which he presented the preliminary findings of his two-month mission to the European Union (EU). This mission included a meeting with Social Platform and a delegation of its members in December 2020.

We very much welcomed Mr de Schutter making a variety of observations that are very closely aligned with the demands of Social Platform and its member organisations on a variety of topics.

Mr de Schutter first highlighted that the EU has failed to fulfill the promises made in the Europe 2020 strategy with regards to ‘lifting at least 20 million people out of the risk of poverty or social exclusion’ by 2020 compared to the year 2008. Moreover, he emphasized that no new target has been set until now, as no follow-up strategy to Europe2020 has been put forward. He underlined that despite this failure to sufficiently reduce the number of people at risk of poverty and social exclusions, growth and employment had grown until the COVID-19 pandemic. This proves that people in poverty have not benefitted from this growth and job creation and that other measures are necessary as well.

He then presented three structural constraints imposed on governments making it difficult for them to successfully reduce poverty. First, he highlighted the issue of fiscal competition between Member States to attract investors and reduce taxation on businesses, leading to a race to the bottom with regards to corporate taxation. Second, he pointed out that some Member States are reluctant to raise wages and social contributions paid by employers to social security, worrying about the impact on attracting businesses. Both lead to an important loss of revenue for states that they could use to finance policies to reduce poverty. Third, he emphasised that the Stability and Growth Pact imposes a macroeconomic straight jacket with regards to social investment. As part of the upcoming revision of the European economic governance, he recommended to the EU to insulate part of the investment made from public debt calculations to allow social investment.

Mr de Schutter then highlighted two main issues with regards to the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF). First, the national Recovery and Resilience Plans (RRPs) that Member States must put forward to access funds under the RRF to finance reforms to address the impact of the pandemic have often been developed without much room for meaningful consultations with trade unions, civil society organisations and people in poverty. Therefore, there is a risk that the plans will be ill-informed and not consistent with the needs of people in poverty.  Second, there is no obligations to dedicate a minimum percentage of the funds for social cohesion, contrary to objectives related to greening the economy and digitalisation. Moreover, no clear methodology on how investments should be used to reduce poverty and inequalities has been established. Social Platform’s also voiced these concerns in an open letter to Member States published in December 2020.

Mr de Schutter also called on the European Commission to propose a framework directive on adequate minimum income scheme, which is in line with Social Platform’s position on the topic. He also highlighted the high expectations placed on the upcoming Action Plan on the European Pillar of Social Rights, underlining his hope that it can be the much awaited successor to the Europe 2020 strategy and will set a target of poverty reduction of reduction of 50% of people at risk.

Following his presentation, Mr de Schutter then answered a variety of questions on topics such as state aid, the link between poverty and disability, universal basic income, the coverage of minimum income and minimum wage schemes in international law, homelessness, the role of EU funds in reducing poverty, the role of social services and local authorities in addressing poverty, etc.

Mr de Schutter will present the full report at the 47th session of the Human Rights Council, to be held in Geneva, Switzerland, in June 2021.