Breaking free of poverty

Zosia Załęska is 17 years old. Passionate about art and fashion, she is a beneficiary of the ‘Support to start’ project in Warsaw. Recently Zosia appeared on stage at an event attended by the mayor of her city. Thanks to the project, she has had opportunities that other young people her age miss out on. In her own words, the project, which focusses on creating young entrepreneurs, taught her “things that we do not learn at school, like the different types of companies, how to fill-in taxes, how to manage a company”.
Zosia Załęska on stage at the EUROCITIES Social Affairs Forum, Warsaw

 In effect, Zosia has set up a small business running a food truck that allows her to develop skills and understand the professional and business environment that will help her achieve her goals. Zosia is one of the lucky ones. She is now a young entrepreneur who has a head start in life.

Across Europe, however, one in four children (0-18 years old) are at risk of poverty or social exclusion. Of course, child poverty is only one part of the bigger picture. While unemployment in the EU has fallen to less than 7%, this hides growing inequalities, both within and between countries. Yet across all ages not enough is being done: The EU plan to reduce poverty by 20 million by 2020 will be missed – by perhaps some 16 million.
European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen wants to combat this by introducing an EU wide minimum wage and benefits scheme. Her Commissioner for Jobs, Nicolas Schmit, wants to go further, to ensure quality jobs and more support for those out of work: “Minimum wage is one of the issues but certainly we have to promote quality jobs also because the number of jobs is not so much important, it is the quality of the jobs that are determining.”
The Commissioner could do worse than take note of cities, like Barcelona, that are already experimenting with alternatives to minimum wage:
Barcelona’s B-MINCOME pilot project, aims to reduce poverty in the city’s poorest district by combining a guaranteed minimum income with active social policies. 1,000 families have been split into different groups, with some continuing to receive a minimum income of €445-500 per month even after they find work, while the others will not, in an effort to test the effects of these policies on their behaviour. Participants are additionally offered access to other services, such as training programmes for re-skilling or up-skilling
In addition, many other cities could offer Schmit some inspiration:
  • Stockholm offers individual support for young job seekers, including counselling, guidance or training through local job centres. The job centres work with young people who receive income support from the city, as well as 16-19 year olds who do not attend or have not completed upper secondary school and 20-29 years olds classed as NEETs.
  • Lille Metropole is piloting a project called ‘Zero long-term unemployment zone’ within two neighbourhoods. The project established a cooperative ‘Employment Factory’ that offers work to long-term unemployed people. Each ‘volunteer’ gets a permanent contract with a chosen working time. Over 100 long-term unemployed people have been hired so far. Based on this success, Lille is planning to expand the pilot to other neighbourhoods.
  • Riga aims to reduce school dropout. It takes a holistic approach to defining the risks of dropout from social and health perspectives, associated with learning, economic and family-related risks. Teachers set up an individual support plan for each student to assess the risks of dropout and how to reduce them. So far, 50 schools and over 850 pupils have taken part.
Matching deeds and actions
Such city level initiatives often benefit from funding through the European Social Fund – the EU’s main tool for investing in people. Despite this, the cities’ network, EUROCITIES, highlights growing inequalities in cities, including child poverty, as a main reason for needing to allocate more European resources into these initiatives.
“this is a two-way process and top level decision makers need to understand how cities work at the local level”
A recent report by EUROCITIES regarding early childhood education and care issues shows that cities are providing support for active social inclusion for disadvantaged children and families, as well as introducing special subsidies for quality support and offering training programmes for relevant staff. However, it also shows cities going beyond their competence in order to keep up with fast changing local situations, and highlights specific challenges cities face, such as the lack of adequate instruments to measure data directly and a lack of national level government co-funding.
Understanding local priorities
So far this year 32 cities have shown that they are ready to put their money where their mouth is – more than €5bn worth in fact – by making commitments based on the values of the European Pillar of Social Rights, the flagship programme of the European Commission to fight poverty and social exclusion.
The European Pillar of Social Rights is an instrument to achieve social convergence in Europe, between and within member states, and a compass for addressing the changes in our society to prepare people for the future of work and increasing diversity.
However, in its current form it lacks ‘teeth’ – not being attached to an EU budgetary item – and its success relies on the shared commitment and responsibility of local and national authorities. This is why EUROCITIES has been coordinating action by its member cities to make pledges on the principles of the pillar.
Warsaw, where Zosia is from, for example, is committed to increasing the number of children under 3 years of age attending childcare by 15%. To achieve this, the city will invest over €71.5 million between 2019-2023 to improve access to and quality of early childhood education and care by:
  • making childcare free of charge as of 2019; if no place is found in public childcare, the city will pay for a place in private childcare facilities;
  • building 36 new public (municipal) crèches with 5,000 extra places (in addition to the existing 64 crèches and 12 mini municipal crèches with 7,389 places);
  • buying approximately 4,000 – 6,200 places in non-public crèches;
  • organising initial training courses to attract people to work as carers and/or establish their own business in the field of childcare for children under three years old;
  • organising continuous development training courses to improve the skills and competences of educators in early childhood education and care.
These measures are part of Warsaw’s Family Programme to increase the network of childcare options in the city and, in this way, create the conditions for better work-life balance for parents.
According to Rafał Trzaskowski, mayor of Warsaw, who also plays a leading role within EUROCITIES, “this is a two-way process and top level decision makers need to understand how cities work at the local level, combining different services and looking at the lifecycle of individuals, in order to better design policies that work for all.” 
In short, according to the EUROCITIES network, the European ambition to eradicate all forms of poverty needs a revamp.

Alex Godson Eurocities Writer