At the eve of a planned reform of the Austrian system of minimum income, the conference highlighted different perspectives on needs-based minimum income support. The key note speaker analysed the plans. “The cutbacks of minimum income support are mainly for Austrians and also for those who have jobs from which they cannot live,” says Walter Pfeil, Professor of Social Law at the University of Salzburg, in his presentation at the Poverty Conference. “Many proposals for the new regulation of the minimum income protection are probably unconstitutional and contrary to EU law.”, says Pfeil. What he really worried about as a law professor is that here “constitutional principles are trampled on”. The law professor refers to the principle of objectivity and cites the Constitutional Court, which argues with the “securing of a decent life”.
“Social protection is a prerequisite for social investment,” explains Karin Heitzmann, professor at the Vienna University of Economics and Business. Livelihood security is a precondition. “When social protection is cut, the economic returns on social investment are also reduced,” says Heitzmann. There are negative consequences for health, educational opportunities of the children, housing situation or inclusion. “These are also costs,” says the economist.
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. Anne advocated to create social protections floors, including decent minimum income, to avoid the income levels to gradually fall below poverty levels. She explained what EMIN has done to contribute to that objective, focussing especially on the peer reviews to clarify the 3 main prerequisites to call a minimum income scheme ‘decent’: adequacy on benefit levels, accessibility of the scheme and the enabling character of the system that should empower people to participate in society and in the labour market. “The European Pillar of Social Rights can help to realize this ambition, but only when the social principles will be turned into enforceable rights”, she explained.
Next to Walter Pfeil, Karin Heitzmann and Anne Van Lancker, other speakers were Gerhard Bäcker (University of Duisburg), Maria Kemmetmüller (Debt Counseling), and Martin Hiesl (Ombudsman Board). In the panel discussion, the conference addressed the following questions: What is the relationship between the costs for the minimum income and the follow-up costs, that would result from a cut? Which (constitutional) legal implications arise from this? What are the corresponding experiences about Hartz IV in Germany? How can fundamental rights be safeguarded and persons better supported by social legislation? To what extent can realistic models such as reference budgets be used?