Low income: Restricted access to essential services?

ESPN synthesis report published.

JS – 09/2020

Principle 20 of the European Pillar of Social Rights states that every person should have the right to access essential services such as water, sanitation, energy, transport, financial services and digital communications.

The synthesis report of the European Social Policy Network (ESPN) looks at access of people with low-income in the 27 EU Member States and 8 other European countries to these essential services. The report examines the measures, policy frameworks and innovations that countries have introduced to support these people.

Data was collected for the report prior to the COVID-19 pandemic (November 2019 to February 2020). The report emphasises that the socio-economic consequences of the pandemic strongly reaffirm the need to ensure access to essential services in accordance with human rights. 

Key findings of the report

The majority of countries implement measures for access to water and sanitation services at regional and/or local level. Reduced fees and cash benefits are the most common support measures. However, the study shows that the human right to water is fully protected in only 11 of the 27 Member States and in the United Kingdom.

With regard to access to energy, it is noted that this is in a controversial overall context on the whole: rising energy prices or access restrictions such as instability of supply or widespread illegal use are mentioned.

Measures to make access to public transport affordable are often aimed primarily at groups such as the elderly, students or people with disabilities. These are also often low-income groups. On the contrary, the study calls for people with low incomes for other reasons also to be taken into account.

To close the digital divide, the study calls for the improvement of connectivity infrastructures (e.g. by providing Internet access in public libraries) and the improvement of people's digital skills.

EU Directive 2014/92/EU stipulates that all citizens have the right to hold their own bank account. This has been implemented in the EU Member States. However, the study calls for further efforts to ensure that people actually make use of them.

The report sees the strengthening of the right of access to these services as a crucial aspect of social inclusion and an essential component of social justice throughout the European Union.

Action Plan to implement the European Pillar of Social Rights

The synthesis report is out at the right time: The European Commission is currently developing an action plan for the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights. It remains to be seen to what extent the findings of the synthesis report will be incorporated into this action plan.