Doc. 6592



on severe poverty and social exclusion:

towards guaranteed minimum levels of resources

(Rapporteur: Mrs HÅVIK, Sweden, Social Democrat)

      Today, in many member countries, severe, persistent and widespread poverty requires to be addressed by policies distinct from those which address the problem of poverty in general through measures to promote economic growth and opportunities for training and re-training. Social protection systems should be reviewed and brought to comply with Article 13 of the Council of Europe's Social Charter. Measures to this effect must be designed and taken, in the first instance, within the context and structure of national systems; special help must be given to the countries of Eastern and Central Europe. Initiatives of the European Community should be explicitly placed within the frames of reference provided by the Council of Europe's Social Charter and revised European Code of Social Security.


1.        The Assembly notes with grave concern that severe, persistent and widespread poverty excludes growing numbers of persons and families from the normal processes, relations and amenities of civilised society:

i.       this situation presents a challenge to governments and parliaments to reconsider the principles on which systems of social protection are functioning, and the values from which these principles are derived - as set forth in a number of basic texts of the Council of Europe, most notably its Social Charter;

ii.       marginalisation and exclusion of the most economically vulnerable are symptoms of an erosion of the moral and cultural bases of our societies: they are contrary to - and may put at risk - the principles of a healthy democracy.

2.        Manifestations of severe poverty, and the social dynamics of marginalisation and exclusion as a result of its persistence, vary considerably:

i.       from one country to another - and in the case of some adjacent countries very substantially, with consequent pressures for cross-border migration;

ii.       from one region to another within countries;

iii.       according to an urban or rural environment;

iv.        according to the age of those concerned;

v.       according to whether causes are primarily unemployment and long-term unemployment, or changes in family structures and increasingly individualised life-styles to which provisions of social protection systems have not been adequately adjusted;

vi.       on account of essential differences in the functioning of their economies between the countries of Western Europe and those of Central and Eastern Europe, arising from major upheavals in the latter's transition to free market systems.

3.       The Assembly recognises that the general problem of poverty is best addressed by policies for economic growth, with broad and varied training and re-training opportunities for those without work - on the principle that unemployment is also an opportunity for investment in the skills and capabilities of individuals.

4.       Today, however, in most European countries, irrespective of the implementation of such policies and their effects, it is clear that strong and distinct policies are required to address severe and persistent poverty.

5.       Severe poverty - the focus of this recommendation - relates to the possibility of living and bringing up children in minimally decent conditions.

6.       Relief of severe poverty therefore must often precede the possibility for those affected to be integrated into the community and to benefit from regular access to education, health care, social security and other services.

7.       Severe poverty is recognisable within particular communities, according to the standards of those communities, by those in direct contact with the individuals and families affected. It thus stands in no need of definition, nor of specification of "thresholds" and "minima" across Europe, in order for a significant impulse to be given at European level for the implementation of stronger national policies - as is and was, respectively, the purpose of this recommendation; of the Council of Europe's recent Colloquy on Social Justice: Poverty and Marginalisation (Strasbourg 3-5 December 1991), including the welcome presentation of projects and programmes of the European Community; and of the Charleroi Declaration of the Council of Europe's Standing Conference of Local and Regional Authorities (7 February 1992).

8.       The questions at governmental level are accordingly

i.       how to improve and channel support to those working most effectively in relief of severe poverty, most often through associations and charities;

ii.       whether social protection systems need to be adjusted or reformed in order to give priority to this objective.

9.       Most social protection systems reflect the view that those who do not have paid work or only work part-time have only the right to correspondingly limited and diminishing resources. They function on the principle of providing an incentive to work and incorporate an implicit negative value-judgment on the situations of those who neither find paid work nor take up opportunities for training.

10.       Social protection systems based exclusively on such views and principles, even if properly adjusted in response to changing family structures and life-styles, no longer meet essential needs in societies with massive unemployment. Moreover, at a more general level, current definitions of "work" operate to the disadvantage of those who contribute most effectively - outside the economic system - to the life of local communities.

11.       The Assembly is aware that no social protection system can probably be designed which is exempt from abuse or questionable exploitation; and that marginalisation and exclusion are not always related to material circumstances.

12.       The Assembly considers that such matters are best dealt with at local level within the context and structure of national systems; and that insofar as the notion of an incentive may be retained in social protection systems in regard to certain benefits and varying levels of support, it should no longer apply in regard to the provision of a basic minimum level of support when the circumstances of an individual and his or her family fall below what are regarded in that society as minimally decent standards.

13.       The Social Charter of the Council of Europe already provides that any person without adequate resources should be granted adequate assistance (Article l3):

i.       nineteen of the twenty Contracting Parties to the Social Charter, including the twelve member states of the European Community, have accepted the provisions of this Article;

ii.       the Assembly recalls its proposals for amending and updating the Charter (Recommendation 1168 (1991)), and considers that this article - applied in a social context of severe, persistent and widespread poverty, of massive and rising unemployment, and of changing family structures and individualised life-styles - already gives expression, for those states which have accepted it, to their acceptance of a commitment, as an aim and principle of policy, to guarantee a decent minimum level of resources for those in need;

iii.       social protection systems in Europe must be adjusted so as to honour this guarantee, and to make provision in the event of disputes on its application for a right of appeal to an independent body by or on behalf of those concerned.

14.       The Assembly calls on the governments of those member states of the Council of Europe which are members of the European Community, in the interest of progress towards a "European social area":

i.       to ensure that, in the deliberations of the Council of Ministers of the European Community on the draft recommendation for common criteria concerning sufficient resources and social assistance in social protection systems (COM (91) 161 final), account is taken of obligations arising in international law from adherence to the Council of Europe's Social Charter;

ii.       to ensure that, in the deliberations of the Council of Ministers of the European Community on the proposal for a Council recommendation on the convergence of social protection objectives and policies [COM (91) 228 final], account is taken of standards established by the Council of Europe's revised European Code of Social Security and of provisions for Community accession thereto.

15.        The Assembly recommends that the Committee of Ministers, in the spirit of its most welcome recent Recommendation No. R (92) 4 on co-ordination of employment, social and educational services for the integration and reintegration into employment of persons with difficulties:

i.       instruct its ad hoc committee of experts for improving the Social Charter to review and update the terms of Article 13, with a view to better protection for those without minimally decent standards of living, and to consider the utility of a specific article on housing;

ii.       instruct its Steering Committee for Social Security to prepare a preliminary evaluation of the conclusions of the Council of Europe's Colloquy on Marginalisation and Poverty (Strasbourg 3-5 December 1991), for communication to the Chairmanship of the Fifth Conference of European Ministers of Social Security (Ireland 20-21 May 1992) and as a basis for an exchange of views with the Assembly's delegation;

iii.       instruct its Steering Committees for Social Policy and for Labour and Employment to pursue and as appropriate to combine their efforts:

a.        in helping the countries of Central and Eastern Europe - in contexts of great economic and financial difficulty and disturbingly high and hitherto unexperienced levels of unemployment - to design and introduce systems of social protection, and to gain access to effective levels of funding for this purpose within the frame of international programmes of support, most notably those of the European Community, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the G-24 group of industrialised countries;

b.       in helping countries to work out national strategies for reducing severe poverty, both in general and for key groups most at risk, on the basis of concerted measures of support at local level not only through social protection systems and unemployment cash benefits but equally in access to housing (and protection against loss of accommodation), health care, education and training and to opportunities for cultural and leisure activities.


by the Rapporteur

A.       Introduction

B.       Causes of poverty

C.       Means to combat poverty

D.       Conclusion

Appendix I:       The outlook in Poland for 1992 (by Mr Wielowieyski)

Appendix II:       Recommendation No. R (92) 4 of the Committee of Ministers



1.       It is well known that in spite of the economic progress that has been taking place in Europe during the past decades, there still exists poverty among a large number of people. In fact, the economic development in itself has created or at least promoted new causes of poverty, which has reached new groups of the population. This so called "new poverty" is above all due to the substantial structural changes in industry and agriculture which have caused unemployment or insecure forms of employment for numerous people. Whole branches of industry or whole regions may be affected by these transformations. Other causes should of course not be neglected, like the changing family structures which have created many small and vulnerable family units. The observation has often been made that the existing social welfare systems were designed for different kinds of problems and cannot always offer the proper means to deal with the new situation.

2.       It must not be forgotten, however, that within Council of Europe member states there also still exists an "old poverty", social problems, that may appear to be more or less solved in the states of the highly industrialised and developed Western Europe, still exist in some countries or regions. In this case there may remain a basic need to complete existing social security systems or to raise the level of benefits.

3.       Poverty has, in fact, many faces in contemporary Europe. Beggars and homeless are seen in the streets of Paris, Rome and London. In Central and Eastern Europe, the collapse of the planned economies has brought misery and unemployment to numerous people. In Turkey and elsewhere large numbers of refugees live under abject conditions. If poverty is generally more benign in Europe than it is in those parts of the world where millions of people die from starvation and malnutrition, it is nevertheless a social predicament of very serious dimensions. There are strong reasons to consider poverty as a common European problem and to compare different approaches with a view of enhancing the capability to deal with it successfully.

4.       It has not yet been possible to formulate a standard definition of poverty. This is hardly surprising in view of the complexity of the problem and the varying economic and social circumstances in different states. The definition agreed by the European Community in 1984 considers those living in poverty as "persons, families and groups of persons whose resources (material, cultural and social) are so limited as to exclude them from the minimum acceptable way of life in the member states in which they live". It is thereby recognised that poverty is not merely related to the lack of income but also to social and cultural exclusion. Similarly, in Recommendation 893 (1980) of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe it was emphasised that the situation of the poor is characterised not only by material difficulties but also by social exclusion, lack of participation in civic, political and cultural life, and difficulties in fitting into the educational system.

5.       This means of course that any effective programme to combat poverty must take several aspects into account and give room for measures in many areas, such as education, vocational training, cultural and political activities and the provision of decent housing. It is, however, not possible to discuss all these very complicated aspects within the limited scope of this paper. The following discussion will therefore concentrate on one crucial problem: lack of sufficient income.

6.       Any obligation to take steps to combat poverty will be highly dependent on how poverty or a "poverty threshold" is defined (the question if it is at all desirable to define such limits will be left aside here). Firstly, it is generally agreed that the general economic situation for people in the state concerned must be taken into account, that is to say, poverty does not mean the same everywhere. Secondly, it is a question of political opinion with what income level the comparison should be made. Should protection against poverty guarantee an income sufficient to provide a decent standard of living or just sufficient to meet basic human needs? And what is a decent standard of living?

7.       Some propositions should be mentioned in this regard. Thus, according to an OECD study (1976), a level of 66% of the national average per capita income constitutes a minimum decent income. As for the interpretation of the European Social Charter a level of 68% of the average wage has been used to decide the amount of a remuneration such as to give workers and their families a decent standard of living (Article 4.1).

8.       It may appear difficult to identify standard measures to combat poverty which will be adequate for all Council of Europe member states. Some general approaches will however be treated in the following and may hopefully serve as a starting point for further discussion.


9.       The main factors in the evolution of the new poverty have been thoroughly analysed in the 1989 report on a guaranteed minimum income, which is referred to. A few points though should be emphasised in the present context.

10.       One might say that the reasons for the new poverty that has appeared in Western Europe during the past decades are essentially of a general nature and due to the important structural changes that have occurred in this time. The previous report points out firstly more unemployment and unemployment for longer periods, secondly more single-parent families, and thirdly the relative inadequacy of welfare systems in this new situation. To these factors one might add the increasing number of migrant workers and refugees, but this problem will not be discussed separately in this connection.

11.       Clearly the far-reaching long-term unemployment caused by economic restructuration and change is of this general nature. When it occurs it often affects a large number of people. A whole region may be seriously influenced by an economic crisis of this kind. It is obvious that this may cause poverty for many families. Furthermore, traditional social benefits will only provide a temporary relief for many of the families concerned. Limited cash benefits to meet urgent needs will not give them the means to get out of the economic situation where they can no longer provide a decent standard of living for themselves. Radical changes can only be attained by general policies aiming at creating jobs and promoting economic development. Nevertheless there is a need for such basic social protection, especially as the unemployment benefits in most states are limited in time and therefore not sufficient in the case of long-term unemployment.

12.       Nearly all Council of Europe member states have introduced some sort of unemployment benefit, though with varying conditions. The countries of Central and Eastern Europe used to have economic systems in which formal unemployment was not recognised. In Poland, it is already the subject of statutory provisions.

13.       As for single-parent families, the problem is virtually different. The risk of poverty for single-parent households seems to be linked to two important facts: firstly a single parent is in most cases a woman and women have lower wages than men, secondly the single parent may not be able to work full time because the child or children need taking care of. Neither of these problems is in fact of the kind that necessitates social assistance. Still, a special economic protection is no doubt needed for most single parents today. But there is no reason to regard them as a general cause of poverty and thereby a social problem; the difficult situation for single-parent families need not be a permanent one.

14.       Some Council of Europe member states have introduced special supplements (sometimes means-tested) linked to family allowances for the support of single-parent families (for example Denmark, France and Hungary).

15.       The third factor stressed in the previous report concerning the inadequacy of welfare systems is certainly valid as for the question of how to deal with high rate of long-term unemployment and its social consequences. The problems arising from changing family structures are different, and it may well be that social welfare systems can operate well in this regard, provided that they identify the types of family most exposed to the risk of poverty and direct their support accordingly.

16.       A very wide-spread cause of classical poverty is old age. Many old people lack personal savings or other means to support themselves and are in need of basic financial support. Important progress has been made in this regard, and all Council of Europe member states have introduced some sort of old-age protection. Due to the large number of people affected and the fact that apart from financial support, aged people also need a lot of medical and social services, this is a costly part of social welfare systems. The problems that remain today are principally due to the fact that old-age benefits sometimes are too low as to provide a decent standard of living.

17.       The provision of sufficient old-age pensions or other old-age benefits can be dealt with within existing or completed social welfare and social security systems. It is largely a matter of distribution of economical means and of what the state in question finds reasonable in view of its economic situation.

18.       When discussing reasons for the new poverty it was mentioned that single-parent families often need special financial support. Another family structure where poverty is a substantial risk should be mentioned here, and that is large families with many young children. This is generally agreed, and practically all member states have introduced family allowances, generally proportional to the number of children (or progressive, like in France). Czechoslovakia and Poland also have family allowances, the former of a progressive model.

19.       In spite of such benefits, the income of families with many young children may in practice be insufficient to given them a standard of living equal to other families. This shortcoming could be dealt with within existing social welfare systems.

20.       Another "classical" group at risk of poverty is multiple-problem families (physical or mental disabilities, alcohol or drug abuse etc.) where especially the situation of the children calls for resolute action. Here the mere providing of financial support is clearly not enough. A wide range of different measures must be available in order to design an assistance programme adequate for each particular family.

21.       A general and very important cause of poverty is however the fact that not all states or regions have reached the same level of economic development as the highly industrialised states of Northern and Western Europe. The modernisation of agriculture in rural areas as well as the transformation of existing industry involves profound changes in daily life for large groups of people and often the loss of jobs in regions which are already poor and struck with stagnation. A special problem is that existing social welfare systems in the states concerned often are incomplete or comparatively insufficient.

22.       It may here be noted that the average standard of living is varying heavily from one European state to another. There is a hug gap between private consumption in Northern and Western Europe and the one in states like Yugoslavia, Turkey and Poland. Following are some features which, on the basis of the Polish experience, may be characteristic in Central and Eastern Europe:

a.       there is a strong tendency towards the accumulation of negative aspects as far as the status of the individual and the family is concerned, and this strengthens the feeling of powerlessness and prevents responsive action;

b.       the difference between living conditions in the towns and in the countryside is much more substantial in Poland, for example, than in the Western countries (access to social services, technical and economic infrastructure);

c.       the essential difference between recognised value systems (attitude towards knowledge and education, behaviour towards children considered as an asset, characteristic attitudes of farm/manual workers) is a major obstacle to effective social assistance;

d.       the appearance and, indeed, extension of the sphere of poverty within almost every social group (farmers, manual workers, white-collar workers, young people and even the liberal professions) is a characteristic feature. In these circumstances, it is difficult to distinguish clearly the groups which have a tendency towards destitution. Within most social groups, there are many people who have reached or already crossed the borderline of poverty. Factors such as training and professional experience, youth or the fact of living in a large city are not sufficient protection against poverty. Their importance in this regard is limited partly because of the low level of population mobility (lack of housing);

e.       the social insurance systems are inadequate (low level of old-age insurance and limited range of health-care benefits).

23.       The social problems in the predominantly agricultural countries differ greatly from the ones caused by long-term unemployment in the more industrialised countries. When discussing the new poverty, the point was the problem of reintegration as to prevent a process of marginalisation and social exclusion. Here it is rather a question of basic integration in a society which is no longer the same.


24.       The basic remedy to poverty is of course economic growth. Over the last few centuries, the industrial revolution and the expansion of trade and services have thoroughly transformed the living conditions of all Europeans. A progressive division of labour and the employment of advanced technology have enabled the production to expand so as to satisfy a widening range of human needs. The extension of markets has been decisive in this process, but there has also been an important contribution of governments in the provision of collective goods and services. The increasing "wealth of nations" produced by this great economic transformation has made it possible for the overwhelming majority of Europeans to reach an unprecedented standard of living and quality of life.

25.       Poverty understood as an absolute phenomenon - as the non-satisfaction of certain basic human needs such as food, shelter and clothing - has certainly been pressed back considerably in this process. Yet poverty understood as a relative phenomenon, defined as deprivation relative to the standard of living of others, has not been similarly affected. Economic historians differ somewhat in their assessment of the impact of economic growth on social inequality, but there is at least no conclusive evidence of a radically diminishing gap between the poor and the well-to-do.

26.       While growth-oriented economic policies, including education, infrastructural investments and other efforts to promote the extension of markets, remain crucial to all efforts to combat poverty, it is clear that such measures alone do not eliminate the root causes of the problem. The economic opportunities of different people will always vary on account on both individual and collective properties. Even under rapid expansion there will be significant groups whose skills and other qualifications do not match the current demands of the labour market. Pockets of poverty are likely to remain in depressed regions or branches of the economy. Another important factor is the prevalence of mental or physical handicaps.

27.       Thus, broad and general growth-oriented programmes do not suffice but must be supplemented by more selective approaches. To reduce and to eliminate poverty, governments must engage not only in economic polity but also in a wide range of social programmes and interventions. These include social security schemes and other forms of income maintenance as well as social services.

28.       As mentioned already in the introduction efforts have been made to establish what is to be considered as a minimum income. One is the OECD level of 66% of the national average per capita income. another is the 68% of the average wage, considered to be the minimum for a decent wage according to the European Social Charter. The two figures may seem close, but lead to different results. Generally speaking, the norm of 68% of the average wage indicates a higher level than the OECD norm, which has been computed for a single person. It approaches however the same norm as applied to the case of a family of four persons.

29.       There are different approaches to solve the income problem for poor families. One is to fix a sufficient minimum wage, either by statute or by collective agreements. This will however not help some of the groups concerned here, since they often lack employment. Tax reliefs and income supplements are other possibilities. The European Social Charter takes all such measures into account.

30.       Many states supply a social security system containing special benefits for some of the groups typically at risk to be affected by poverty. Basic benefits for the old and the disabled as well as family allowances l- especially those with special benefits for large families and/or for one-parent families - are of this kind. Many systems also contain benefits such as free medical services for persons in economic need or special housing benefits for people with low income.

31.       One might say that a social security system is a way close at hand to master financial problems that are likely to occur for each individual in certain well-known situations. The problem that still remains in many states is that the benefits - though proper for their purpose - are too low to provide a sufficient social protection or a decent standard of living. This may in turn be due to, for example, a crisis of national economy or the political difficulty to introduce systems which will change the distribution of income and reduce the scope of existing inequalities.

32.       It is not possible, however, to foresee all situations where an individual may be in economic need nor to formulate rules or regulations that would always be appropriate and fair. A common way to cover such situations is through different forms of social assistance which will function as a final safety net. Accordingly, it cannot be designed for special situations or limited in time. Instead there will be general requirements like a means test or certain conditions to guarantee that no other income or financial support is available.

33.       The level of cash benefits in social assistance schemes is generally low. Only few Council of Europe member states have more ambitious schemes aiming at the reintegration of the individual concerned. It is in this context that the possibility of a guaranteed minimum income has been discussed, in particular with regard to those in need of social assistance because of long-term unemployment.

34.       A guaranteed minimum income in this sense would have a double effect. Firstly, it would indicate a minimum level for basic benefits in the social security system of the state concerned. Secondly, it would set a standard level for social assistance cash benefits in particular cases. Depending on the level of guaranteed minimum income in proportion to existing benefits this could mean either an important piece of progress in the combat of poverty or just a marginal help in situations diverging from the ordinary.

35.       In either case it should be stressed that a guaranteed minimum income cannot by itself solve the individual's problem (provided that it is not just a financial one, caused by special circumstances). For the purpose of lasting improvement the reasons of poverty and social exclusion must be faced. It is therefore essential that - along with adjustments of benefits - social security and social assistance schemes provide for powerful measures aiming at the integration or reintegration of the individual concerned in all cases where this seems like a reasonable possibility. If not, a guaranteed minimum income may just conserve a situation of social exclusion, in the same way as many existing social benefits already do.

36.       Unemployment and an unfair distribution of the fruits of economic progress must be fought as important causes of poverty for large groups of people. But not all reasons for poverty mentioned above should be seen this way. This is the case as for the changing family structures and patterns, which involve a change in society life that must be accepted and the social protection system adapted accordingly. Thus, the fact that one-parent families are increasing in number is not so much of a problem as the fact that existing social welfare systems have been designed with only the nuclear family in mind.

37.       Special consideration should be given to the question of individualisation of rights to minimum standards of living, or to benefits like a guaranteed minimum income, and the provision of procedures of appeal against administrative decisions on the right to assistance or benefits.

38.       In this connection it should be noted that according to the Council of Europe's Social Charter (Article 13) the Contracting Parties undertake to ensure that any person who is without adequate resources be granted adequate assistance. According to the case-law of the independent experts, social assistance should be a statutory right and should be supported by a right of appeal to an independent body, such as a court. Thus, for member states who have ratified the Charter and accepted this provision there exists already an obligation to provide a minimum social protection as of right. This "minimum" may, according to national circumstances, comprise:

a.       minimum incomes (wages, allowances);

b.       essential benefits in the field of education to offset disparities in the status of children (meals, textbooks, holidays);

c.       the restructuring of the health-care services in order to establish a distinction between basic compulsory benefits and any supplementary insurance schemes;

d.       the principles of assistance in respect of housing whenever the state withdraws important subsidies in this field and family budgets are subjected to a painful process of readjustment.


39.       Large groups of people in Europe are, despite the economic development that has taken place, still living in conditions of even severe poverty and without means to bring about a change in their own situation. These existing needs and inequalities are not likely to disappear unless resolute political action is taken in a wide range of areas. In view of the difficulty of the problem such steps should be taken with no further delay.

40.       An effective combat against poverty requires however a good knowledge of the reasons for poverty and the process of marginalisation as well as of appropriate strategies of dealing with these problems adequately and with regard to the opinion of the people concerned. This knowledge is insufficient today, especially as the economic and social conditions vary significantly between different states. Studies purporting to advance this knowledge should therefore be given priority in each state, with a view to work out a national strategy for the reduction of poverty, in general and for certain key groups.

41.       One of the most important measures to combat poverty is, as mentioned earlier, a vigorous and resolute economic policy with a view to reduce unemployment and distribute the return of economic growth in a fair and appropriate way, as well as the fair apportionment of the cost of getting out of the economic crisis. This is valid for the "new" poverty caused by long-term unemployment due to economic crisis as well as for the poverty seen in less developed regions struck with economic stagnation. But the way out of economic crisis may be a costly and difficult one, particularly for states where the development of trade and industry still has a long way to go. On the other hand, the elimination of at least severe poverty - understood in the limited, cash-oriented sense - does not have to be far off in the rich parts of Europe, provided that adequate information is available about the reasons for poverty in different cases and the proper way to deal with them. But in either case, growth-oriented programmes will not alone be sufficient to combat poverty and will have to be supplemented by more selective approaches.

42.       Traditional policies to manage or to alleviate poverty are often focusing too much on financial support. In order to be effective and bring about a real change in the situation for people in need such benefits must be co-ordinated with action in other fields, like the provision of decent housing and necessary medical care along with measures to relieve social exclusion and give access to working life and participation in social activities. Employment and education policies must be given special attention and necessary resources.

43.       Accordingly, a mere payment of cash benefits is insufficient to master poverty except in cases of temporary financial need or cases where the only problem is that the regular income is too low. for cases when there is only question of such financial support it is desirable that general social security system can provide benefits that will be adequate for at least the majority of key situations. Individual examination and means-tests should be avoided or simplified when possible, since many people find this humiliating and may refrain from asking for assistance. A rapid and simple procedure is also essential.

44.       A consequence of the European Social Charter is that social assistance should be provided as a statutory right with possibility for the person concerned to claim this right and to appeal against a decision of rejection.

45.       The principle of right to social assistance will lose its significance if the benefits provided for are too limited or if the level of benefits is too low. A well-working social protection system therefore implies certain minimum requirements and standards, which must be reasonable in proportion to the average standard of living in the state concerned.

46.       It is true that a European policy against poverty must pay regard to the varying national situations and give room for different approaches and - for the time being - different ambitions as for guaranteeing a certain income level. Nevertheless, it should be possible to agree on the long-term aims and ambitions in this field. It seems difficult however to find a way to define poverty, or an income level to delimit poverty, which would be valid for all Council of Europe member states. Thus, a definition of a minimum income as, for example, a certain proportion of the average wage may indicate an income level which is enough to provide a decent standard of living in a high-wage country, but may be clearly insufficient in a country where the average wage is very low or reduced.

47.       There is a certain risk that standards and measures defined in a very general way as to cover substantial variations between all member states will be too vague or too empty to be the basis of an effective combat against poverty. Definitions related to standards common for certain groups of states could help to reduce this ambiguity. In this connection there is also reason to consider whether a guaranteed minimum income defined in proportion to existing standards in each country - like the average standard of living, minimum wages for full-time workers etc. - could help to encourage and speed u the improvement and development of social security and social assistance schemes.

48.       In this paper many references have been made to the Council of Europe's Social Charter, which covers important parts of social rights. The right to protection against poverty in a wide sense would fit very well in the Charter, and would call attention to the fact that poverty remains a serious social problem in Europe today. Such a provision would also guarantee that the combat against poverty - which obviously requires more than an occasional effort and must be continued for a considerable time - is regularly reviewed and discussed within the Council of Europe.

49.       In conclusion, it should noted that a careful analysis of the causes of poverty in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe calls for studies and the presentation of a number of decisive factors which, in the Western countries, operate on a scale and under conditions which are completely different:

a.       the excessive mortality rates, for which there is an upward trend, affecting men in particular, but also women of working age;

b.       the high rate of infant mortality;

c.       a sharp increase in the number of pensioners (on account of early retirement);

d.       the very special consequences of the increase in the number of incomplete families (70% of families with disabled children belong to this group);

e.       the delayed start in life for young people caused by both labour market difficulties and inadequate mobility (lack of housing);

f.       the high number of families comprising several generations, which is a symptom of poverty and, at the same time, a source of reassurance at the social level.




Mr Wielowieyski (member of the committee)

1.       Poverty is one of the main social and economic problems in Poland. Both this problem, which is becoming more extensive and deep-seated and the lack of genuine possibilities for change constitute a threat to the reform process and the comprehensive transformations undertaken in 1989. Poverty represents a threat to the privatisation of the economy and to the changes in the system of ownership. It is an obstacle to the democratisation of society, to political changes and to citizens' activity. It has the effect of depriving most of society of material, cultural and civilising assets. Poverty is the chief impediment to Poland's integration into the Western fold.

2.       Poverty in Poland is massive, structural and persistent in nature. For many years, the scientific community hardly mentioned such problems as the situation of low income social groups, the glaring shortage of housing, the persistence of material and cultural backwardness in certain areas and the link between poverty and disease. The problems at the root of mass, structural poverty have not been the subject of political and economic analysis, nor has any measure been taken in this field. The very term "poverty" was used only to describe strictly limited cases (broken homes, certain categories of the elderly, alcoholics, victims of reverses of fortune).

3.       According to estimates, officially recognised poverty affected between 5 and 8% of the population in the 1970s. From 1978 onwards, the phenomenon gained considerable momentum. It is estimated that more than 35% of the total population lived on low incomes in 1991 (including 15% whose incomes were at the minimum subsistence level). The drop in real incomes which affected more than 80% of households in 1990 testifies to the scale of the impoverishment of the population caused by the introduction of free market conditions. Few households have incomes above the 1991 average (some 20% of the total number of households, including barely 10% who could point to an income of double the social minimum). These data prove that the gap between the lowest and highest incomes of Polish households is not very great. The studies carried out up to now do not take into account the incomes of the most well to do households which represent roughly 10% of the total number of households.

4.       Poverty in Poland is largely dictated by macro-economic processes (as it was in the past). In the post war period, the policy of low wages, full employment and limited consumption was based on doctrinaire economic principles. Wages were raised in response to the growing of social protest and the inflationary spiral. They imparted a further pathological aspect to the process of social distribution of income, limiting the state to the role of aligning state sector salaries as closely as possible with the minimum subsistence level.

5.       Given the maintenance of low wages, the standard of living depended on the social benefits awarded by the state, since citizens were deprived of the possibility of taking steps to protect their own welfare. In fact, wages remained low but the state undertook to supplement them. Welfare benefits and social services were subsidised by the state budget, as were the prices of many goods and services made available to the general public. Since the end of the 1980s, the price subsidies for goods and services have been regularly cut back, including those for housing, energy, commodities, education, health care and culture. This has led to a further decline in the already low standard of living, especially in view of the continued application of the low wage policy.

6.       In Poland, we have a situation where the state, still the largest single employer, guarantees low income levels for most of the population. Officially, education is free, as are the health care services, while housing is subsidised and the system of social insurances is nationalised, thus furthering citizens' dependence on the state. The private sector is taking shape slowly and as yet covers only a small part of the economy and services. The low level of social prosperity considerably limits the potential for escape from the authority of the employer and the national supplier of services.

7.       Measured in terms of traditional criteria, poverty affects all segments of the population in Poland: the elderly, incomplete families, large families, the disabled, alcoholics. The factors determining "traditional" poverty are the following: hunger, disruption of the family, poor housing conditions, lack of qualifications, low levels of education and training and alcoholism as cause and effect. Further factors are the lack of ambition for the training of children, social passivity and isolation. Poverty frequently went hand in hand with delinquency, which was encouraged by a well developed and repressive prison system.

8.       The groups of persons afflicted by structural poverty as defined in accordance with traditional criteria (the cycle of low incomes - low standard of living - minimum state guarantees - the subculture of the poor) are being joined by groups of newly poor people emerging as a result of the process of comprehensive change. In many cases, they do not present the "traditional" features of poverty: they include well educated young people with high professional and consumer goals and stable families. They also include farmers, manual workers, representatives of professions demanding a high level of qualification, experienced workers and young graduates. They react in different ways to the decline in the standard of living and the poverty affecting themselves and their families. The situation confronting them inspires resignation, apathy and indifference in some, while others manifest increased activity and aggressiveness and are prompted to make feverish efforts to secure prosperity (frequently outside the official economic system). The tendency to emigrate to the Western countries is still strong among young graduates who do not wish to the sub-culture of poverty.

9.       The problems of the right against mass poverty and adjustment to the sub-culture of poverty have not been given the prominence or attention they deserved in the social and economic programmes introduced since 1989 in Poland. Attention has been focused exclusively on the establishment of systems of assistance for those who are unable, by their own efforts, to secure a minimum level of resources. On the basis of the argument that the problem will be solved by future economic growth, no measures have been taken on behalf of poor people who have adapted to a low standard of living.

10.       The limitation of consumer spending and individual income recommended by the experts as a means of spurring economic growth cannot be effective in Poland's current circumstances. One feature of the situation in Poland is that spending and average incomes are low; expenditure on food accounts for some 50% of the average income, while basic needs (food, housing and clothing) take up nearly 80% of the same income. Expenditure on cultural goods, services, education, healthcare and leisure absorbs about 10% of monthly income. The subsequent limitation of incomes and consumer spending may - with the mass poverty which exists - serve to promote "improved" adaptation to the sub-culture of poverty, on the one hand, and increased emigration to the West, on the other.

11.       Both the mass adaptation to the culture of poverty and the flight of the most enterprising people constitute a serious obstacle to the process of comprehensive change in Poland. The state is under increasing pressure from the growing demands for a guaranteed minimum income for ever larger population groups. In addition to pensioners, incomplete families, the disabled and the sick, the persons concerned nowadays also include workers in industries made bankrupt as a result of economic reforms, farmers grappling with the difficulty of disposing of their products, workers in education and healthcare and representatives of many other fields of endeavour.

12.       National income has declined in Poland since the end of the 1970s. The state has increasingly less scope to provide assistance and guarantee incomes. However, the number of people requiring assistance is growing constantly. The unemployed are today the largest group among the "new" poor in Poland (there were 2 240 000 of them in January 1992, representing 16,4% of persons employed outside agriculture or 11,4% of all workers; the number of redundant people in agriculture is not known exactly, but is estimated at some 1 500 000).

13.       On account of the low level of social prosperity, it is very difficult to select appropriate means of assistance in Poland. The traditional means of assistance to the poor are widely known and applied in Poland. The laws and regulations are constantly being improved: 1991 saw the entry into force of a new Social Welfare Act which introduces legal guarantees of assistance to persons who are unable to secure their own means of existence. A network of national and extra national institutions has been set up with the task of helping the poor. Similarly, a system of training has been established for social workers possessing the requisite qualifications for both the provision of practical assistance and the introduction of work schemes involving social groups, with the aim of overcoming the passivity and isolation of indigent population groups and integrating them into society. Even though there are still some gaps in this field or groups of people not receiving assistance, the situation is improving steadily: the number of non-governmental organisations is growing all the time, while bodies promoting local autonomy, people of good will and denominational organisations are contributing to the aid given to the poor.

14.       The main problem in Poland in 1992 is that of eliminating large-scale poverty, overcoming the tendency to adapt to the sub-culture of poverty and halting the emigration of qualified (educated) young people who are not equipped to face poverty and wish to leave the country for lack of other ways of escaping destitution.

15.       It is well known that economic growth, education, the development of infrastructure and any measures to promote a free market system are the best means of overcoming mass poverty. However, this axiom is too indefinite to be applied in 1992 in Poland, given the extremely difficult economic, social and political conditions.

16.       Poland and the other countries of Central and Eastern Europe are expecting assistance from the Western countries, which will enable them to institute sustainable economic and social mechanisms and free them from the vicious circle of massive, structural and persistent poverty.


Provisional version







(adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 10 February 1992

at the 470th meeting of the Ministers' Deputies)

The Committee of Ministers, under the terms of Article 15.b of the Statute of the Council of Europe,

1.       Considering that the aim of the Council of Europe is to achieve a greater unity between its members for the purpose of safe-guarding and realising the ideals and principles which are their common heritage and facilitating their economic and social progress while respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms;

2.       Bearing in mind the basic principles set out in Article 1 of the European Social Charter, which contains an undertaking to ensure the effective exercise of the right to work, in particular by achieving and maintaining as high and stable a level of employment as possible, with a view to the attainment of full employment, and by establishing or maintaining free employment services;

3.       Recalling that, in its final communiqué, the Third Conference of European Ministers of Labour, which took place in Madrid in 1986, particularly stressed that co-operation between educational, employment and social welfare services, on the one hand, and voluntary organisations, on the other hand, should be encouraged to further the integration of the young unemployed with difficulties into the world of work;

4.       Recalling that in its final communiqué the 19th session of the Conference of European Ministers for Family Affairs, which took place in Malta in 1985, noted that unemployment tends to be concentrated on certain categories of workers - usually the least qualified - and stated that policies to combat unemployment and efforts to revitalise the economy should be accompanied by specific measures providing social as well as educational and cultural help to such workers;

5.       Considering that any active employment policy should, as a matter of priority, enable all workers to enter a socially rewarding occupation;

6.       Noting that policies in this area are often fragmented because of the many causes of non-integration, and the involvement of a variety of specialised services from local and central authorities, as well as voluntary and charitable organisations;

7.       Considering that vocational integration into the world of work of young persons with difficulties and more generally of any person with difficulties depends on many and often concurrent factors:

-       economic factors: the employment situation,

-       political factors: government willingness to give priority to programmes for persons experiencing integration difficulties,

-       sociological factors: agreement within society on the need to reduce "exclusion pockets" and combat inequality,

-       psychological and individual factors: the extent to which the individual matches generally accepted criteria of mental, physical, economic and social "normality",

-       institutional factors: the way in which various authorities operate, the distribution of responsibilities between local and central authorities and relations between the authorities and private, voluntary and charitable institutions;

8.       Considering that active policies based in the first instance solely on vocational training may be inadequate for groups with difficulties who often need as a priority to learn or relearn social skills by entering the world of work;

9.       Considering that the development of small production units has helped in many countries gradually to reduce unemployment;

10.       Noting that many employment opportunities for persons with difficulties exist in such decentralised production units which, however, are often inadequately informed of public employment policies;

11.       Noting that the integration problems, and even exclusion of people in difficulty are due, in many cases, in addition to the general situation of the labour market, to a series of factors: training, health, family and psychological problems, housing, etc., and that these people are least able to find their way among the various services provided to help them;

12.       Noting that, in this context, these people need a clearly identified reference point which can co-ordinate all the information available and involve the various services concerned;

13.       Noting that precise targeting may result in failure of some of the many measures taken by governments to prevent the exclusion of certain sectors of the population, creating new areas of exclusion and non-entitlement;

14.       Considering that the ultimate aim should be to have legislation applicable to all workers, and not special legal measures which are liable to maintain persons with difficulties in a situation of dependence;

15.       Considering, lastly, that one of the aims of any government should be the successful, social and vocational integration of each and every individual,

      Recommends that the governments of the member states apply the following principles in organising and co-ordinating all the administrative services (employment, training/education, welfare or health services, etc.) involved nationally and locally in formulating and implementing policies and measures for vocational integration of persons with difficulties, for the purpose of preventing the emergence or spread of social exclusion.

      These principles should form part of a more general policy based on the following objectives:

-       to maintain as high and stable a level of employment as possible, with a view to attaining full employment,

-       to promote, for that purpose, economic policies which cover the entire working population and the whole of the national territory,

-       to promote the access of all persons to recognised education for the purpose of facilitating their integration, in the community and thus enabling them, as far as possible, to choose occupations compatible with their abilities and expectations,

-       to promote an effective preventive and social welfare policy for everyone.

Recommended principles:

I.       To promote, for preventive reasons, closer links between schools and the Community so as to give young people in a situation of academic failure at the end of the period of compulsory schooling an opportunity to prove their worth in out-of-school activities and thus approach their social and occupational integration in more satisfactory conditions.

II.       To limit as far as possible the use of special measures for young persons with difficulties by facilitating measures aimed at the total working age population, thereby enabling those concerned to make increasing use of standard employment procedures.

III.       To limit threshold effects and other factors making for the selection of persons entitled to benefit from specific measures, which are linked with excessively rigid definition of, or with inappropriate classification criteria of the beneficiaries.

IV.       To encourage the provision of a range of non-segregative measures, which allow these and other groups to follow a personalised itinerary in line with their needs and abilities, and to draw on all the facilities available, without necessarily referring to specific handicaps.

V.       To encourage, where possible, the development at local level, of any public and/or private initiatives, designed to deal with the full range of problems (employment, training, health, accommodation etc.) of those concerned, using an individualised, comprehensive approach based on prior consultation/ co-ordination between

-       the public or semi-public departments and bodies (social security, etc.) funding the relevant measures and,

-       public bodies, voluntary and private organisations and all those otherwise involved in helping persons with difficulties,

which will make it easier, inter alia, for persons with integration problems to identify in every area a clearly designated place, service or person where they can refer to for help, whatever their original reason for doing so.

VI.       To promote all initiatives that help to develop an individualised integration itinerary for persons with difficulties, and in particular:

-       avoid making vocational training a precondition for all types of occupational integration,

-       facilitate access of those with difficulties to paid production or service activity in order to promote the gradual development of a stable and socially rewarding identity, thus establishing a basis for subsequent vocational training,

VII.       To promote at local level any measures enabling firms and particularly small and medium concerns to play a more active part in facilitating access to employment in good conditions for persons with difficulties.

VIII. To implement or encourage an active policy to alert, inform, and train persons in charge of small production units so that they can also fulfil a social function while respecting economic management criteria.

IX.       To encourage and uphold new initiatives which tend to combine social and economic objectives by offering persons with difficulties opportunities for social and vocational integration, such as:

-       measures to maintain certain production activities in the cultural and social fields although they may not fully satisfy traditional criteria of profitability,

-       state-supported enterprises at local level fulfilling both economic and social functions in specific areas by giving some priority to employing persons with difficulties.

X.       To encourage a wide range of vocational training opportunities to meet the needs of the active population, including employers, thus increasing employment opportunities for all.

Reporting committee: Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee.

Budgetary implications for the Assembly: None.

Reference to committee: Doc. 6185 and Reference No. 1665 of 21 March 1990.

Draft recommendation: adopted unanimously by the committee on 17 March 1992.

Members of the committee: Mr Pini (Chairman), Mrs Håvik, Mr Rathbone (Vice-Chairmen), Mrs Albrink, MM. Banks , Beix, Bowden, Curto, Diaz de Mera, Ferris, Fiandrotti (Alternate: Martino), Foschi, Gouteyron, Gusenbauer, Mrs Haarstad, Mrs Haglund, Mrs Haller, Mrs Halonen, MM. Jurgens, Karakaş, Koehl, Koulouris, Liapis, Libicki, Joaquim Marques, Menzel, Meyer zu Bentrup, Mikan, Ottenbourgh, Miss Özver, MM. Palacios, Pasquino, Pécriaux, Psaila Savona, Mrs Ragnarsdottir, MM. Regenwetter, Reimann, Mrs Rossi, Mrs Rothmayerova, Mr Schwimmer (Alternate: Strimitzer), Mrs Soutendijk-van Appeldoorn, Mr Ternak, Mrs Ugrin, Mr Wielowieyski.

NB:       The names of the members present at the meeting are underlined.

Secretaries to the committee: Mr Hartland and Ms Meunier.

1 1       Drawn up following a study made by Susan Billum-Stegard, judge - Swedish Supreme Administrative Court, member of the Committee of Independent Experts of the Council of Europe's Social Charter; and incorporating observations of Mr Wielowieyski (Poland), member of the Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee.