Caritas Europa has lamented the plight of the “millions” of EU citizens “expected to be dragged into poverty as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic”, warning Brussels that “this is no time for business as usual” on “gaps” in social welfare.

– COVID “has exposed the weakness of European welfare states”

The network of Catholic development, relief and social service organisations on the continent sounded the alarm November 12 in a joint statement with the European Anti-Poverty Network, the European Trade Union Confederation, Eurodiaconia and Social Platform calling on the European Commission to act with “courage” and establish a legally-binding EU framework for an adequate minimum income.

“The COVID-19 crisis has exposed the weakness of European welfare states, as gaps leave people unprotected, in vulnerable situations without any sources of income”, Caritas deplored in a note accompanying the statement.

Defending its call for a minimum income, Caritas said that that kind of mechanism “bridges the gap for those ineligible to access other rights and who do not have any other, or only insufficient, income”.

– High poverty level “threatens the credibility of Social Europe”

The call of Caritas and its partner organisations for a minimum income scheme in the EU – which has attracted the support of 45 members of the European Parliament, 42 academics and 28 EU civil society groups – warns that already before the COVID-19 crisis almost 110 million people in the EU found themselves “without enough money to make ends meet and to live a dignified life”.

That 110 million number means the EU has not met its 2008 pledge to reduce the number of poor in the Union to 96.2 million by 2020, Caritas and its partners lamented.

“This failure to meet the Europe 2020 poverty target threatens the credibility of Social Europe, with millions more expected to be dragged into poverty as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is no time for business as usual”, the social service groups alert.

Caritas and its partners noted that a September meeting of the Council of the European Union concluded with a call to the European Commission to “initiate an update of the Union framework to effectively support and complement the policies of Member States on national minimum income protection”.

That invitiation “is a recognition that EU soft policy mechanisms currently in place have had limited impact, failing to provide incomes at an adequate level to respect the rights and dignity of millions of people”, Caritas and its associates said.

“Only two Member States currently pay benefits close to the poverty threshold, while schemes in many countries barely reach 20% of the threshold. This is no time for business as usual”, they stressed.

– A proposal to reinforce EU unity from “a shared political and moral commitment to end poverty and social exclusion”

Caritas and its partners closed their appeal with a reminder that a minimum income scheme would not only fit well into the new European Pillar of Social Rights – due to be launched in 2021 – but could also be a way to “reunite the EU Member States around a shared political and moral commitment to end poverty and social exclusion”.

“The EU must find ways to ensure that the Social Pillar has a real impact on people’s lives.

“A Framework Directive on Minimum Income would be remembered as the new Commission’s flagship initiative that guarantees a right to an adequate income to the people in the poorest and most vulnerable situations, demonstrating to all that the EU delivers on its promises and prioritises protecting people as well as planet, in its commitment to a social, inclusive and sustainable recovery” from the COVID-19 crisis, Caritas and its associates concluded.

On the World Day of the Poor this November 15, more on Novena on the Church’s fight against poverty:

Full text: Pope clamours for World Day of Poor: “Time devoted to prayer can never become an alibi for neglecting our neighbour in need”

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.