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Minimum income is a key mechanism to contribute to supporting vulnerable people out of poverty. However, the European Commission has identified several challenges regarding access, adequacy, and coverage of minimum income across countries. Often beneficiaries of minimum income face multiple barriers to their social inclusion and have difficulties entering the job market. Yet, coordination of labour market integration and social inclusion programmes is challenging. Therefore, last month the European Commission put forward a Proposal for a Council Recommendation which aims to harmonise and improve member states’ minimum income support programmes.

A recommendation across seven areas of intervention

The Council Recommendation covers seven areas: 1.) Adequacy, 2) Coverage, 3) Take-up, 4) Access to inclusive Labour Markets, 5) Access to enabling and essential services, 6) Individualised support, and 7) Governance. These areas touch upon the recommendations made by the European Social Network (ESN) in Spring 2022, notably on integrated support for social inclusion.

Access to enabling services and individualised support

Areas five and six of the proposed Recommendation highlight key ingredients for improved social inclusion programmes, such as an individualised and integrated approach to social inclusion including access to enabling services, such as education, childcare and health. Individualised support shall be provided through a multi-dimensional needs assessment, a joint inclusion plan and assigning a case manager. ESN’s recent seminar discussed how essential integrated support packages are – for instance for people with mental health issues, for whom psycho-social support is often a prerequisite for taking further steps on accessing the labour market or further training.

Strengthen the operational capacity of public authorities

Area seven of the Recommendation notably highlights the need to strengthen the operational capacity of authorities in charge of income support, employment services and providers of enabling services, and enhance their cooperation. ESN strongly welcomes this initiative, as public social services at local level are key for the integrated provision of minimum income support. ESN is actively contributing to building capacity on integrated support programmes,  through its involvement in the EU-funded Xeitu and Reticulate projects aiming at building integrated local support systems for minimum-income beneficiaries in Asturias (Spain) and Tuscany (Italy). As stressed by the proposed Council Recommendation, data sharing among different support services is highly relevant for integrated service models. This is confirmed by findings from the ESN seminar and other related projects, as lack of data sharing is often identified as one of the main barriers to service integration. The EU should further look at this issue and analyse how EU policies, for example, on data protection could support better integration of public services.

Measures to improve non-take up

The proposed Council Recommendation identifies non-take-up of services as a major issue. ESN welcomes the suggested measures such as simplified application procedures, user-friendly information on the support available, and proactive outreach to persons potentially eligible for minimum income. The EU should also promote the exchange of best practices in this area. For instance, at our ESN seminar, the city of Amsterdam presented how people requiring social support are automatically identified through close collaboration with housing companies. 

Stronger cooperation with social services in local authorities

Monitoring of implementation will be done in collaboration with the Social Protection Committee, and in the framework of the Country Specific Recommendations that the Commission provides to national governments. However, its implementation should be monitored not only in collaboration with the national level, but also with subnational authorities who have the responsibility for the design of integrated social inclusion programmes. The European Commission and national governments should make sure that regional and local authorities are seen as key partners for the recommendation’s implementation. This partnership should include provision of resources for local capacity building in the design and provision of integrated support for people in need. As a further step, the Commission should look at promoting monitoring frameworks that assess access and coverage of social support more holistically covering at least three pillars: social rights legislation, economic investment, and coverage along the lines of ESN’s proposed recommendations of a social services assessment index covering these three areas.