How important is equal access to essential services, and how does this impact the socio economic inclusion of EU citizens? Does digitalisation serve as an opportunity, or barrier? What is the link between a minimum income and equal access to essential services?
The EAPN Access to Essential Services report is the result of dedicated sessions of structured consultations and mutual exchanges with EAPN members. The consultations highlighted the importance of access to affordable quality essential services for their members and people experiencing poverty and social exclusion, in the context of overarching challenges, such as the digital and green transitions and the poor conceptualisation of essential services at EU and national level, from a rights-based perspective.
Access to quality services is crucial to achieve socio-economic inclusion and a life lived in dignity. The EAPN Access to Services report sets out a person-centred, rights-based framework, to raise public awareness of the limitations of the common approach to defining and providing essential services.
EAPN members highlighted the following elements when analysing access to essential services:
- Access to adequate minimum income and social protection are necessary pre-conditions to access essential services.
- Gender distributional impact must be considered as gender inequality depends on structural causes leading to more poverty and social exclusion for girls and women.
- The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated pre-existing inequalities and has led to a significant risk of an increased poverty or social exclusion rate, if adequate and multi-disciplinary measures are not taken now.
Digitalisation – namely, digital inclusion and the digital divide – is a transversal and cross-cutting process that impacts on access to all services, particularly healthcare, and the exercise of fundamental civil and basic rights. Therefore, digital communications are not only a service per se but also an enabling condition to access other services and rights.
- The Green Deal brings forward new challenges for people living in poverty or vulnerable situations who face a higher risk of inadequate housing and energy poverty and the related implications for health, access to funding and participation in the jobs market.
By highlighting the need to mainstream the equality of treatment in access to essential services and service provision in Europe, and factoring in the challenges and opportunities of the digital and green transitions, EAPN’s Access to Services report proposes sector-specific recommendations (on health and energy) to national and EU policy makers, and captures the lessons learnt from the Covid-19 pandemic, and the energy crisis.
EAPN offers 7 EU recommendations in the report:
- Protect citizens access to services
Derogations to the application of European internal market and competition rules to the provision of essential services – to protect citizens’ access to services and when there is a Public Service Obligation – should be refined and clearly stated in the EU Report on Access to Essential Services and harmonised with the EU framework of services of general interest and the Directive 2014/24/EU on public procurement.
- Commit to a minimum provision of services, and ensure the accessibility of essential goods and services. Revise the body of laws regarding services of general interest, which includes but is not limited to the Regulation on the categories of aid compatible with the internal market, the Services Directive, consumer protection measures and the Quality Framework for Services of General Interest in the EU. This revision should aim to update and monitor binding commitments to minimum provision of services and accessibility of essential goods and services. As for the review of the Quality Framework, it is recommended that the implementation of the European Quality Framework for social services be mandatory and applicable to other essential services.
- Assess the impact of digital poverty within the EU from the perspective of both service providers and users.Digital poverty in the EU – from the perspective of both service providers and users – should be monitored and assessed in relation to access to essential services and fundamental rights, through a consistent integration in the EU Semester process and the implementation of the actions under the European Pillar of Social Rights.
- Access to affordable, healthy food should be integrated in the framework of essential goods and services. Access to affordable healthy food should be integrated in the framework of essential goods and services, particularly in the context of the cost-of-living crisis and in relation to the link between healthy people and a healthy planet in the European Green Deal.
- Capitalise on the lessons learnt during the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and the energy crisis. Capitalise on the lessons learnt during the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and the energy crisis – which legitimised the application of softer fiscal policies through the general escape clause, and envisage mechanisms to activate necessary national investments and reforms and avoid the tough return to austerity in the longer term. In this regard, optimise the integration of the Recovery and Resilience Facility model into the Economic Governance Review and the EU Semester while promoting the distributional impact assessment tailored to different groups of users.
- Minimum income. Develop and monitor the implementation of a strong Council Recommendation on Minimum Income containing binding elements for Member States regarding the design and evaluation of minimum income schemes. Amongst these, inclusive activation and positive conditionality ensuring access to key social rights and quality essential services for minimum income beneficiaries; a poverty-proof hierarchy between minimum income, contributory and non-contributory social security, and minimum wages to socially integrate or re-integrate people that are excluded from the labour market; rights-based eligibility criteria and impact assessment of minimum income schemes; strengthen positive incentives for quality work and active inclusion.
Promote a rights-based and person-centred approach to a universal and non-discriminatory access to affordable quality essential services, rather than a conflicting interaction between a market-driven approach and public interest.
By highlighting the need to mainstream the equality of treatment in access to essential services and service provision in Europe, and factoring in the challenges and opportunities of the digital and green transitions, EAPN’s Access to Essential Services report proposes sector-specific recommendations (on health and energy) to national and EU policy makers, and captures the lessons learnt from the Covid-19 pandemic, and the energy crisis.