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
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.