The Hague, House of Europe, 4th of October 2018
Under the title ‘Minimum wage and poverty, hand in hand?’ EMIN Netherlands organised a well-attended conference in the House of Europe in Den Hague on 4 October. EMIN project leader Jo Bothmer explained in his welcome that this means that incomes from the Participation Act, the State Pension Act and the Survivor Act need to be increased by at least 5% extra in order to guarantee a dignified life. There are groups in society, such as the growing group of the working poor (340.000) that cannot survive because of the low level of income and existing social problems.
Anne Van Lancker, EMIN policy coordinator, presented the state-of-play of the EMIN project. Even when all EU countries now have a minimum income system, differences are big, as well in terms of design, eligibility, levels of payment, coverage and take-up. Only a few countries have adequate minimum income schemes. Often 20-75% of the potential beneficiaries has no access to the schemes due to strict conditions. Anne advocates to create social protections floors, including decent minimum income, to avoid the income levels to gradually fall below poverty levels. She explains what EMIN has done to contribute to that objective. With the slogan ‘Many voices make the choir strong!’, she makes it clear that European citizens can act together forcefully to advocate the need for an adequate minimum income with their government.
The conference started with the film EMIN Nederland has made of the bus tour through the Netherlands that took place on 24, 25 and 26 May 2018 and visited 3 Dutch cities. Activists have highlighted the importance of European Minimum Income, collected signatures and organized events where various politicians and civil society organizations have spoken and networks have been strengthened.
Stella Hoff, researcher working at the Social and Cultural Planning Bureau (SCP), presented the latest figures regarding minimum income and poverty in the Netherlands. The SCP looks at poverty on the basis of 2 reference budgets: one where only basic provisions apply, and a second budget for social participation that includes all necessary goods and services for in a dignified existence. A recently published report on working poor, a subject that is largely covered by the media, makes it clear that paid work is no longer a guarantee to get out of poverty. Especially self-employed people with a low hourly wage and working with a contract less than 20 hours appear to be risk groups.
From the Network of Clients Councils in Healthcare (NCZ), chairwomen Marika Biacsics talked about poverty among older people and the trend that the dividing line between rich and poor is becoming more and more visible among this group. The example of the elderly who stay away from the coffee-hour and retreats to the room because they can’t afford to pay the price of a cup of coffee of €1.50, touches the heart of participants. Client participation in care is hampered by the influence of aging on health and by overburdened informal caregivers, as a result of which older people do not always get what they are entitled to.
Citizens with a mental and / or addiction background deserve specific attention, states Dr. Mieke Portegies in her contribution on minimum income and clients of Mental Health Care (GGZ). Research shows that there is a relationship between poverty and the development of psychological problems and because of the stigma people can’t get out of it. She argues that poverty problems should be put central in the work of mental health care providers. At present, the focus on the bio-medical model seems to stand in the way and links between different dimensions of health are not made.
Two students social work/young entrepreneurs, who have set up businesses as part their new Social Work education program, spoke about their ambitions and the complex income situation they are struggling with that has a restrictive influence on their aspirations. The debt they are faced with after the study is high. However, in order to be able to start their careers, they have come up with many creative ideas at the occasion of a workshop, organized by EMIN NL at the University Leeuwarden.
Quinta Ansem, chairman of EAPN Netherlands, closed the conference with a reflection on experiential knowledge of experienced experts on poverty and the importance of using this knowledge in the implementation new policies. Finally, she called again to sign the petition for a European Minimum Income, so that the realization of an adequate minimum income and income improvement for all citizens of Europe comes closer.
An inspiring day, interesting speakers and lots of food for thought to spread home in the network!