What are minimum income schemes and why do they need an overhaul?

In partnership with The European Commission
What are minimum income schemes and why do they need an overhaul?
Copyright euronews
By Bryan Carter
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The EU is turning to minimum income schemes to help member states tackle poverty and promote labour market integration.

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What is CRIS, and what does it hope to achieve?

CRIS (Cooperate, Reach out, Integrate Services) is a pilot project funded by the European Union that aims to find new ways of addressing the issues faced by the most vulnerable people. 

In 2021, more than one in five people in the EU were at risk of poverty or social exclusion. In September 2022, the European Commission called on member states to modernise their minimum income schemes as part of the ongoing pledge to reduce poverty and social exclusion in Europe.

Through minimum income schemes, the EU hopes to lift its citizens out of poverty while promoting labour market integration for those that can work. 

The EU aims to help at least 15 million people out of poverty by 2030, as set out in the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan. Minimum income schemes are one of the ways to help European citizens to live a better life, and help member states reach the goal that at least 78% of the population aged 20 to 64 should be in employment.

How will minimum income schemes help tackle poverty and boost employment?

The goal of minimum income schemes is to alleviate poverty while, at the same time, incentivising employment. They do this by offering three kinds of support. 

Firstly, cash payments help households cover living expenses and pay the bills. These payments are vitally important for families who are struggling to bridge the gap during times of economic downturn.

In addition to these payments, households also have access to advice and assistance on finding decent employment. As such, the scheme acts as a springboard towards brighter employment prospects and better social inclusion.

The scheme can also help with important things like social services, transport, energy and education.

What are the challenges facing existing EU minimum income schemes?

There are several problems with existing minimum income schemes. These schemes often vary significantly when it comes to the adequacy and coverage of benefits. Indeed, the level of benefits in most EU countries is well below the poverty line thresholds, varying between 20%-80% of the national thresholds. 

Large numbers of people are either not eligible for minimum income schemes, or do not take up the help that's available. On average, around 20% of the EU's working population who are unemployed and/or at risk of poverty is not covered by minimum income or other social support. While estimates suggest that 30%-50% of those eligible for minimum income schemes do not access the support. 

Many EU countries do not have a clear and well-developed route that helps minimum income recipients go on to enter the labour market. This means the schemes become much less effective in their aims of reducing poverty and boosting social inclusion. 

How can EU member states improvetheir minimum income schemes?

The European Commission has proposed a 'Council Recommendation on adequate minimum income ensuring active inclusion' to help member states more effectively fight poverty and improve labour market integration through minimum income schemes. 

The Recommendation hopes to help EU countries improve the adequacy of minimum income, boost the coverage and take-up of minimum income, facilitate access to labour markets for those who can work, improve access to enabling and essential services, promote individualised support, and increase the effectiveness of the governance of social safety nets at EU, national, regional and local levels.

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