Posts Tagged 'minimum income'

Minimum Income Standards Essential for Social Protection & Recovery

Paul Ginnell is the Policy and Support Worker with European Anti-Poverty Network Ireland. Paul’s role is to support people experiencing poverty and social exclusion and their organisations, many of which are members of EAPN Ireland, to understand and to contribute to policy making in Ireland and the EU.

Minimum income or social welfare payments are a fundamental right and provide an essential safety net for people who have no work or other means to support themselves. At their most basic level, minimum income schemes are one of the cornerstones of the modern welfare state, and the mechanism by which the state can step in and ensure that an individual’s basic needs are met, and prevent extreme deprivation, homelessness etc.

The right to minimum income is an important component of a democratic society and such schemes are the basis from which every person in society can have a dignified life.

Minimum income schemes exist in all EU Member States apart from Italy, Greece and Hungary. However, formulation and implementation is the responsibility of the Member States themselves and such schemes vary greatly across the EU in terms of their quality, the levels paid and the conditions that apply to accessing them etc. In many cases they are insufficient to allow people to live with dignity, access services and employment/training opportunities, and participate fully in the society in which they live.

Individual Minimum income levels in almost all EU Member States, including Ireland, are below the 60% (of median income) at-risk of poverty line and are therefore insufficient to lift people out of poverty.

In Ireland the social welfare rate in 2010 is €196.00, while the at-risk-of poverty line (in terms of income for an individual) stands at €238.69.

Minimum income schemes currently face multiple threats: rising prices are squeezing their purchasing power, active labour market policies are increasing the conditionality of benefits, and people on minimum income are increasingly labelled as lazy and stigmatized for being in receipt of these payments. The European Anti-Poverty Network is centrally involved in a political campaign  to examine how a standard for minimum income could be developed and implemented across the EU: one which would ensure an acceptable and dignified standard of living for all.

There are strong arguments which support the need for an adequately high level of minimum income:

  • Minimum income schemes are a key instrument in preventing poverty and social exclusion, as long as the levels are sufficient to take people out of poverty.
  • They give vulnerable people the long term security they need to engage in pathways to employment, greater social participation and inclusion. For example, those with; disabilities, long-term sickness or mental health problems, and those vulnerable due to their age, family commitments, or where quality jobs are not available.
  • They are a catalyst for fair wages if wage levels are linked in a positive hierarchy to decent levels of minimum income.
  • Member States have already committed at EU or international level to ensure adequate income, but the implementation of these commitments has been weak.
  • In the current economic crisis, they not only prevent hardship for those without jobs but provide an essential floor to consumer spending to boost the economy.
  • Above all they provide a solid foundation for a socially cohesive society, built on solidarity.

In 1992 European leaders agreed a recommendation reaffirming the fundamental right of all EU citizens to a minimum income that is adequate for a dignified life. This was further confirmed in the 2008 European Commission recommendation on the active inclusion of people excluded from the labour market, which recommended that all Member States develop an integrated approach to providing adequate minimum income, linked to adequate services and pathways to employment.

As part of its campaign EAPN is lobbying for a stronger EU legal basis in the form of a Framework Directive, aimed at guaranteeing an adequate minimum income for all. Such a Directive was one of the recommendations contained in the synthesis report on minimum incomes by the EU national experts on social inclusion who reviewed Member States minimum income schemes in 2009.

On 24th September EAPN will host a conference on Minimum Income in Brussels involving its members, including EAPN Ireland, policy makers and others in order to move forward the debate and campaign on minimum income.

One of the workshops in the conference will focus on the use of Essential Minimum Budgeting Standards, benchmarks that have been developed in many Member States as a way of identifying the real income needs of different family types based on the actual cost of a basket of goods. The Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice, the organisation that carries out this research in Ireland, will be presenting the Irish experience. This method is one possible way of benchmarking minimum income levels against the real cost of living. The VPSJ have just released the impact of Budget 2010 on the real cost of living and revealed a €76.52 gap between the actual cost and the supports received for an individual over 25 years on Jobseekers Benefit. This is an increase of €8.30 from 2009.

EAPN Ireland will be actively engaged in the campaign for minimum income for a dignified life and is currently a member of the Poor Can’t Pay campaign lobbying against cuts to social welfare payment in the budget. We’ll be releasing a more detailed policy briefing on minimum income policy shortly.

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