Around 100 people experiencing poverty from 26 European countries gathered in Madrid for the Annual European Meeting of People Experiencing Poverty
European Anti-Poverty Network sounds alarm as unbearable cost of living continues
On 14 and 15 November 2023, the European Anti-Poverty Network (EAPN) has organized it’s Annual European Meeting of People Experiencing Poverty (PEP) in Madrid. The 21st edition entitled “The Unbearable Cost of Living | EU Elections Edition” #PEP2023, was organised in collaboration with EAPN Spain and hosted over 100 people from 26 European countries.
Juliana Wahlgren, Director of EAPN, officially inaugurated the 21st edition of the European Meeting of People Experiencing Poverty. Followed by Mari Fe Torres Román, representative of the EAPN delegation in Spain, who welcomed everyone and opened the first day of #PEP2023.
Olivier De Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, stressed that states must do much more to protect people experiencing poverty and involve them in policy-making. Karine Lalieux, Belgian Minister for Pensions and Social Inclusion, highlighted that “all regions must have an anti-poverty strategy that focuses on the participation of people experiencing poverty.” Marc Simón, “la Caixa” Foundation Assistant General Manager and host of #PEP2023, noted in his speech that “cooperation and persistence are fundamental” to achieve a more just society. Finally, Carlos Susías, President of EAPN Spain and EAPN Europe, closed the inauguration by highlighting the value of holding these meetings and pledging as EAPN’s President to “defend the proposals at both European and national level.”
Mobilisation for Change!
Fernando Chironda, EAPN’s Policy & Advocacy Officer, led the morning session “People’s Power: Preparing the ground for the next EU elections.” People experiencing poverty are rarely being heard and involved in the political process. “This PEP Meeting is an opportunity to raise our voices together and to leverage this power”, it sounded.
Ahead of the EU Elections in June 2024, EAPN and its national networks are ringing the alarm as very little has changed over a year. The past months have been marked by growing inflation throughout Europe. This means that the prices of basic goods, such as food, electricity, mobility and housing have risen exponentially. We are living in an unbearable cost of living crisis. “When everything rises at the same time – that’s it. The situation is getting tougher. There is no money to eat, no money to buy clothes, no money to pay bills. You can’t even afford to go to work every day”, describes one of EAPN’s members.
“Together, we urge European policymakers to pick up our signals. A strong anti-poverty framework must be at the forefront of a Social Europe. The cost of living crisis has exposed the historical inequalities in our societies and urgently requires long-term structural measures, such as adequate minimum income schemes that lift people out of poverty, quality and affordable housing, social justice in the green transition to tackle energy poverty, …”; states Juliana Wahlgren, EAPN Europe Director.
The first day ended with a symbolic act in front of the Reina Sofía Museum, to make the voices of people experiencing poverty heard.
Delegations from 26 European countries highlighted their key messages for the elections. During the action, information leaflets on the impact of the European elections on public policies and the rights of all people were also distributed during the action. How has the European Union shaped your daily life? And what have Members of Parliament have to do with all that? The goal of the flyers is to explain why individuals must vote in the upcoming elections.
We raised our voices in the city center of Madrid and had some interesting discussions about #PEP2023, our main demands and the importance of your vote!
The main focus of the meeting was the plenary session on 15 November, moderated by Director Juliana Wahlgren. Representatives from different parliamentary groups in the European Parliament took up the demands and proposals on social policies made by the delegations of the participating countries the previous day.
In particular, the debate sessions focused on access to decent housing and essential services, energy efficiency, minimum income guarantees and the effects of inflation on basic goods.
On minimum income, Lesley O’Reilly, from EAPN Ireland, urged for an increase in wages and minimum income schemes based on the real cost of living and rising inflation. Maria Jacoba Vrakking, of EAPN Netherlands, summarised the conclusions on housing with two measures: ensuring the right to quality and inclusive housing for all, and more efficient regulation of the housing market, with greater redistribution of ownership and social housing.
On energy efficiency, Quinta Maria Ansem of EAPN Netherlands said that to “change the system” it is necessary to involve all levels of responsibility, especially those who set prices and access to energy. On energy poverty in winter and summer, Anne Milis of EAPN Belgium said it is a “very serious problem” for our society, and she called for a delegation of people with experience of poverty to maintain a direct dialogue with political decision-makers.
Finally, in the context of the current rise in food costs, EAPN Austria’s delegate Anna Schiff said there was an urgent need to defend the right to food, especially for children, by adopting policies to regulate food prices or protect small-scale producers.
The parliamentary representatives present were MEP Monica Semedo, Member of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs for the Renew Europe Group; MEP José Gusmão, Vice-Chair of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs for the Left Group; MEP João Albuquerque, Member of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs for the S&D Group; and Jiří Švarc, Head of Unit of Social Policies, Child Guarantee & Social Protection Committee of the European Commission.
Semedo opened the debate by calling for “a more social and fairer Europe”, and took up some of the ideas discussed at the conference, including those related to the minimum wage: “We have a directive, now the Member States have to implement and improve it”.
In his speech, Gusmão stressed that “if people will be indebted to access basic key services like education, then equal opportunities have already gone out the window.” He added that “if we want poverty to be a real priority, we have to make it clear. It should be a central issue for any political discussion, especially in terms of housing and public services.”
Albuquerque pointed to the importance of adjusting policies to people’s needs: “We have to create a policy that allows everyone to progress, regardless of their starting point. It’s not just about paying the bills, it’s also about being able to have a decent life.”
In response to questions on economic policies from the audience, Jiří Švarc acknowledged that there is “still a lot of work to do to reach a welfare state.” He concluded: “I got a lot of emphasis on mobilising the community that is here today. Activism. In the context of the elections, please do participate not only in the European elections but also in the national elections.”
This year’s PEP Meeting marked the kick-off of EAPN’s European Election Campaign, which calls on citizens to vote for a democratic, inclusive and social Europe. Poverty and social exclusion are a denial of basic human rights and a lack of respect for and protection of human dignity.