A homeless beggar on the streets of Dublin, Ireland.Image NurPhoto via Getty Images

    Around 95 million EU citizens live in poverty or on the brink of poverty – that is 20% of the population in the European Union. That situation is only getting worse as energy and food prices skyrocket. The European Commission is calling on Member States to modernize their social systems so that by 2023 at least 15 million people will be lifted out of the danger zone of poverty.

    In 2017, EU countries agreed to strengthen citizens’ social rights, including the fight against poverty. However, the overview presented today by the European Commission shows that only someone in the Netherlands with social assistance benefits (including supplementary schemes and allowances) reaches the income threshold to prevent poverty (60 percent of the average income in the country).

    In Luxembourg, Denmark, Italy and Ireland, the assistance fluctuates 10 to 20 percent below that. In Romania and Bulgaria, social assistance is more than 80 percent below the poverty line.

    The European Commission is recommending Member States to increase their assistance where necessary to meet the target of 60% of the country’s average income. Public finances must not be endangered.

    The Commission points out that the EU has almost EUR 100 billion available for Member States’ social plans. The European Recovery Fund (750 billion euros) can also partly be used for social reforms, such as better and faster functioning of social security systems. Currently, between 30 and 50 percent of people who are entitled to income support do not make use of it.

    The European Commission further states that the assistance should activate people to look for work. It calls on the Member States not to completely abolish social assistance and other allowances (for care, childcare, public transport) as soon as someone finds a job; the loss of that extra help can discourage people from accepting a job because it could put them at a financial disadvantage. The Commission explicitly refers to continued financial support for paying the energy bill.

    Moreover, the Commission believes that Member States should not provide assistance to one person in the household (often the man), but to all adults in that household. This strengthens the position of women and young people.

    Social security is a competence of the EU Member States themselves. The European Commission can only make recommendations.