‘Inadequate’ European minimum income schemes

Many EU member states still fail to provide adequate protection for their citizens against low income, according to researchers at the Centre for Social Policy in Antwerp. Their paper looks at patterns of convergence and divergence in minimum income schemes in EU countries over the last 20 years, and highlights 'sharp variations'.

Key points

  • Substantial progress has been made over recent decades in the spread of general social safety nets. The number of countries with a universal minimum income guarantee has increased with each enlargement of the EU. Despite this, cross-country variation in the level of minimum income benefits has remained 'markedly stable'.
  • But this overall pattern hides starkly different country experiences. Many member states still fail to provide adequate protection against low income. Not all of them have a safety net that provides cash benefits to all needy people. Moreover, levels of minimum income protection are inadequate almost everywhere (against the 60 per cent of median income standard).
  • In many countries assistance payments have not kept up with the development of average wages and median equivalent household income. This is linked to external pressures associated with globalisation, along with domestic challenges such as an ageing population, eroding traditional family structures and the shift of emphasis from social protection to activation and social investment.
  • However, net social assistance benefit levels have by and large eroded less over the last decade than during the preceding one. Whereas the overall picture for the 1990s was one of almost uniform erosion of benefit levels relative to average wages, the picture is less uniformly negative from 2001 onwards – though in some countries, such as Ireland and Portugal, these gains have been lost in the most recent crisis.

Source: Natascha Van Mechelen and Sarah Marchal, Trends and Convergence of Europe's Minimum Income Schemes, ImPRovE Discussion Paper 13/11, Centre for Social Policy (Antwerp University)
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Publication date: 
Sep 9 2013