Poverty and social exclusion skyrocket with austerity

Proportion of the population at-risk-of-poverty or social exclusion, 2011

Proportion_of_the_population_at-risk-of-poverty_or_social_exclusion,_2011_(1)_(%)
Social exclusion and poverty has been a constant danger for a very large part of our modern western societies. It is understandable that while the economies grow this danger recedes and the opposite is true in recession. To measure however the danger of social exclusion and poverty doesn’t seem easy. Apart from the income variables there are other non-quantitative factors which determine this risk. As it usually happens in order to arrive at concrete measurements of social phenomena, researchers tend to choose to rely on measurable factors.

This is exactly what Eurostat, the EU statistical service, did.
In order to arrive at a measurable variable of social exclusion and poverty Eurostat decided that the “overall risk of facing poverty or social exclusion is made up of three types of risk: being at-risk-of poverty; facing severe material deprivation; and/or living in a household with very low work intensity”.

Accurate measurements

Under this assumption the EU statistical service embarked in a very interesting exercise and seemingly measured more or less accurately the risk of social exclusion and poverty in the European Union. The results verify that the method used for the measurement was correct. As expected in countries with low-income and less mature social structures and services or in times of economic recession the index measured by Eurostat increases.

Material deprivation rate – proportion of persons who cannot afford to pay for selected items, 2011

Material_deprivation_rate_-_proportion_of_persons_who_cannot_afford_to_pay_for_selected_items,_2011_(1)_(%)

Now coming to the actual findings, the Eurostat study found that, “In 2011 there were 119.568 million people in the EU-27, equivalent to 24.2 % of the entire population, who lived in households facing poverty or social exclusion. Although the number of people at-risk-of poverty or social exclusion declined during the period from 2006 to 2009, this trend was reversed in 2010, as the proportion rose by 0.5 percentage points (equivalent to 2.5 million people) when compared with 2009. In 2011 that proportion increased by a further 0.6 percentage points (equivalent to 3.2 million people) compared to 2010. This indicator for the EU-27, calculated as a weighted average of the national results, conceals considerable variations between EU Member States. In Bulgaria (49.1 %) half of the population was considered to be at risk of poverty or social exclusion in 2011, while in Latvia (40.4 %) and Romania (40.3 %) the proportion accounts for approximately two fifths of the population. In Lithuania (33.4 %) the proportion exceeded a third of the population”.

Eurostat also found that more than a quarter of the population was considered to be at-risk-of-poverty or social exclusion in five other Member States in 2011, namely Greece and Hungary (both 31.0 %), Italy (28.2 %), Poland (27.2 %) and Spain (27.0 %). Not to forget that Greece, Italy and Spain apply severe austerity programmes.

Austerity victims

Given that austerity policies were in force as from 2010, developments in the 2011 must be directly and exclusively connected with the overall worsening situation. While a number of Eurozone countries are applying austerity policies, fast rising unemployment is the most conspicuous development. Apart from that however government spending cuts tend to affect primarily social services and protection, a move that hurts mainly people in need.

According to Eurostat “… By far the largest increases (of social exclusion and poverty risks) occurred in Italy (up 3.7 percentage points) and Greece (up 3.3 percentage points), followed by Latvia (up 2.3 percentage points) and Spain (up 1.5 percentage points)”.
In absolute terms, the figures for Italy, Spain and Greece had the greatest upward impact on the number of persons considered to be at-risk-of-poverty or social exclusion in the EU-27 in 2011. These Member States reported increases of 2.3 million, 696 000 and 372 000 people respectively in terms of the number of people at-risk-of poverty or social exclusion between 2010 and 2011.

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