Income & social protection

Income & social protection
Introduction & opportunities: 

Social protection provides protection against social risks associated with unemployment, social exclusion, housing, sickness, parental and care responsibilities, and old age. The provision of social services is crucial for the achievement of European social, economic and territorial cohesion and plays an important role in fighting poverty and social exclusion.

As provided in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, the EU recognises entitlements to social security benefits in certain instances (e.g. maternity, illness, industrial accidents, dependency or old age, and loss of employment). In fact, since 2007, the Commission has emphasised the need to promote the quality of social services of general interest, notably through the development of voluntary quality standards. In 2010, the Social Protection Committee adopted a voluntary European Quality Framework for Social Services with the aim of developing a common understanding of the quality of social services within the EU. It identifies principles and criteria that a social service should comply with to address the needs and expectations of the service user. It also defines social services - including childcare, employment and training support services and long-term care as “key instruments for the safeguard of fundamental human rights and human dignity and contribute to ensuring the creation of equal opportunities for all, therefore enhancing the capacity of individuals to fully participate in the society”.

Currently, the main policy framework in the field of social protection is the Europe 2020 Strategy and the Open Method of Co-ordination (OMC) for social protection and social inclusion, which aims to promote social cohesion and equality for all through adequate, accessible and financially sustainable social protection systems and social inclusion policies. Through the Social OMC - and in collaboration with the Social Protection Committee (SPC) - the EU supports the national strategy development for social protection and social investment, as well as the co-ordination of policies between member states on issues relating to poverty and social exclusion, health care, long-term care and pensions.

The Annual Growth Surveys (AGS) assessing the economic and social situation in Europe and setting out broad policy priorities for the EU as part of the European Semester process are also important documents. The Annual Growth Survey 2014 stresses that better performing social protection is essential to support social change and reduce poverty and the growing inequalities. It calls for active inclusion strategies to be developed, encompassing efficient and adequate income support, activation measures as well as measures to tackle poverty and broad access to affordable and high-quality services.

Within the Commission’s Social Investment Package (SIP) which includes guiding member states on the use of social budgets to ensure adequate and sustainable social protection, the Commission calls upon member states to set more efficient and effective social protection systems and secure adequate livelihoods through developing adequate income support designed on the basis of people’s needs. Member states are also called to fully implement the 2008 Recommendation on ‘Active inclusion of people excluded from the labour market’.

It is important to recognise that minimum income is a potent potential social protection instrument, with ongoing work at the EU level. Well-designed adequate income support schemes are recognised as important tools to reduce poverty and social exclusion, decrease inequalities and increase labour market participation, and therefore contribute to achieving the Europe 2020 poverty target.

Potential avenues of influence: 

Concerns about social protection and income are frequently present in the current debates at European level. Several stakeholders emphasise the importance of social policies and social protection systems that address and reduce inequality and social exclusion. There are various actors stressing that adequate income for a dignified life is a fundamental right, which provides the mean to participate in work and society, confidence to plan to future, and is a key tool to eradicate poverty. They also call for application of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) recommendation on national social protection floors, including access to essential goods and services, such as health, education, food and social services, and income support, as reference for these social standards.

There has been growing support from key EU institutions such as the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of Regions to guarantee an adequate minimum income in the European Union under an EU framework directive. This would complement the Social OMC in achieving the EU poverty and social exclusion target. An emerging opportunity for advocates is the argument that an EU or euro-wide social protection scheme could act as an ‘automatic stabiliser’ in times of high unemployment or financial crisis, as laid out in the Commission’s Communication Strengthening the Social Dimension of the Economic and Monetary Union.