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16 May 2019updated 27 Jul 2021 1:37pm

Sian Berry: Why the Green Party is backing a European minimum income directive

By Sian Berry

Nearly one in five under-15s in Britain live in a home that cannot be certain of food on the table. Meanwhile, millions are struggling to afford a room of their own – let along a home. As a London resident, I frequently hear the horror stories of unaffordable private rents. Elsewhere in the UK, many others are suffering from expensive and often poor-quality housing.

In these European elections only one party has pledged to use the European Union to tackle the scourge of poverty, with the aim of lifting millions up to security and a decent standard of living. The Green Party manifesto commits the party, with its sister parties across Europe, to pressing the European Parliament for a minimum income directive.

This measure would enshrine in European law a decent minimum income for citizens in all member states. It would force the British government to increase benefits to levels that would secre decent living standards – and a security net that people can build their lives from.

A decent minimum income is defined as 60 per cent of the median income of a citizen’s home country. For the UK, this level is currently £17,040 a year.

The benefits cap imposed by Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government limited the amount of benefits a single UK adult can receive in a year to £13,400, well below the income level needed to provide security and dignity.

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Punitive policies like this have consigned millions of people in Britain to deepening poverty. The government’s own statistics suggest that 14 million Britons rely on an income below the decent minimum – while benefit sanctions have left swathes of society in penury.

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The government has found billions to save bankers, slash corporate taxes and deliver a hard Brexit. It should therefore be possible to find the money to provide a meaningful safeguard against poverty.

A guaranteed minimum income would be the next step in a long line of social rights for British people, secured using the power of the European Union. Previous EU directives have delivered a guarantee of 28 days of paid leave and a limit on working hours for more than 26 million British workers, along with guaranteed parental leave, meaningful equal pay rights and prohibitiond on discriminating about age, religion or sexuality.

Many Westminster politicians fought against these measures. It took united voices fighting for ordinary people from within Europe to secure them. 

When Margaret Thatcher’s government chipped away at the social rights of British people, it was Europe that stood up for the poorest in our society. Under the presidency of French socialist Jacques Delores, the European Commission passed the declaration of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, which enshrined in law the right to social security, healthcare and housing. When Delores addressed the 1988 Trade Union Congress in Bournemouth as guest of honour, he was greeted with a rapturous rendition of “Frère Jacques”.

The Green Party manifesto pledges to make Europe a truly social union, which goes further in empowering workers, fighting poverty and reducing inequality. To do so, the European Parliament needs truly progressive members who believe in the European Project and its potential to lift its citizens out of poverty.

Green candidates across the UK plan to secure an end to the long years of benefits cuts and the delivery of a decent income for everyone, through our European membership.  And in case you had second thoughts, there’s growing evidence that we could beat the Tories in this election, too.

Sian Berry is co-leader of the Green Party.

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