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Is there Common Ground for Defining a Decent Social Minimum in Europe?

Chapter in book
Authors Otto Swedrup
Tim Goedemé
Tess Penne
Karel Van den Bosch
Bérénice Storms
Published in in Kotkas,T. Leijten, I. and Pennings, F. (eds), Specifying and Securing a Social Minimum in the Battle Against Poverty
Pages 93-109
ISBN 978 1 50992 602 2
Publisher Hart Publishing
Place of publication Oxford
Publication year 2019
Published at Department of Law
Pages 93-109
Language en
Subject categories Social welfare law, Public law, European law, Law and Society


Without comparable benchmarks, the cross-national monitoring of the adequacy of minimum income schemes is impossible. However, it is not so straightforward to define what comparability means in this context, and how it should be operationalised. At the minimum, comparability would require that people can have a broadly similar understanding of what adequate social participation means. Obviously, the financial resources that households require at the minimum for adequate social participation vary across time and space due to differences in climate and geographical context, institutional differences, culture and social expectations, as well as variations in the availability, quality and price of essential goods and services. Yet, without a common understanding of what ‘adequate social participation’ means at a more general level, a benchmark of ‘adequacy’ that is substantively comparable across countries remains highly elusive. Therefore, in this chapter we explore to what extent there is a common understanding at a more abstract level of ‘adequate social participation’ in terms of the essential social positions that one should be able to take, and in terms of the needs that should be satisfied to be able to fulfil in an adequate way the social roles associated with these positions. In the context of a large-scale project that involved country teams in all EU Member States, we have developed a ‘core list’ of social positions, and validated commonalities across EU Member States based on two sources. Formal social expectations have been assessed in terms of commitments of Member States to international guidelines and regulations; informal social expectations regarding essential social positions and human needs have subsequently been assessed in three focus group discussions in each of 24 EU capital cities. Overall, the discussions in focus groups across the EU confirm there is quite some common ground with respect to what can be understood under the heading of adequate social participation in terms of essential social positions and needs that should be fulfilled. This provides some evidence that it should be possible to develop benchmarks to assess the adequacy of social protection schemes that are comparable in a meaningful way.

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