Why should the EU take up the question of minimum income in its fight against poverty?

Publishing date
24 April 2023
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The European Union is more than a single market, it’s also a collaboration of values. The “four freedoms” of movement, labour, capital and services go hand in hand with a commitment to social rights and shared prosperity.

Minimum income schemes are one of the most effective ways to fight poverty and maximise the impact of welfare spending. When households can count on access to a basic level of funds, they can manage their own needs and reduce strain on emergency services like shelters, emergency rooms and food banks. However, access to minimum incomes is inconsistent and often bound up in red tape.

When families do manage to sign up, they may also struggle with benefits that are below the cost of living in their area, accompanied by barriers to supplementing that basic income with paid work. Social policies should make it easier for poor households to join the workforce, not penalise them by withdrawing safety nets too soon.

Financing a minimum standard of living does not have to break the bank. While dreams of a robot tax to fund universal basic income are strictly science fiction, there are ways to pay for social services in full respect of the EU’s fiscal rules. The EU can and should set common standards for household support while making sure member state resources support growth, productivity and sustainable public finances.

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About the authors

  • Rebecca Christie

    Rebecca Christie is a Senior fellow at Bruegel and hosts Bruegel's podcast, The Sound of Economics. She is also the Brussels columnist for Reuters Breakingviews. She writes about the crossroads of markets, policy and politics, particularly where it comes to the European Union and how it interacts with the world. She was lead author on the European Stability Mechanism’s official history book, "Safeguarding the Euro in Times of Crisis: the Inside Story of the ESM".

    Over more than two decades in journalism, Rebecca has reported from Brussels, Washington and around the world for Bloomberg News, Dow Jones Newswires/The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times. She joined Bruegel as a visiting fellow in 2019.

    She has also served as an expert adviser to a European Economic and Social Committee panel on taxation, is a regular conference speaker and moderator, and has provided editing and policy analysis to the European Commission, members of the European Parliament, and the African Development Bank. A US-Belgian dual citizen, she holds degrees from Duke University and from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.

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