Is poverty and exclusion the necessary price for EU’s recovery?

The Third Annual Convention of the Platform against Poverty and Social Exclusion took place on 26-27 November 2013 in Brussels. Sergio Aires, President of The European Anti-Poverty Network, at the podium in the presence of Lieve Fransen, Director at the DG "Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion" of the European Commission. (EC Audiovisual Services 26/11/2013).

The Third Annual Convention of the Platform against Poverty and Social Exclusion took place on 26-27 November 2013 in Brussels. Sergio Aires, President of The European Anti-Poverty Network, at the podium in the presence of Lieve Fransen, Director at the DG “Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion” of the European Commission. (EC Audiovisual Services 26/11/2013).

At least one out of every four EU citizens is at risk of poverty or social exclusion. The relevant percentage was 24.8% in 2012. However, given that this variable has been increasing steadily since 2008 by some decimal points every year, the measurement must have exceeded the 25% benchmark in 2013. These figures were published yesterday by Eurostat, the EU statistical service, and are based on data from the EU-SILC survey; (In the field of income, poverty, social exclusion and living conditions, the EU Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC) is the main source for statistical data at European level).

The quarter of EU population at risk of poverty and social exclusion numbers today more than 125 million persons constituting the largest ‘EU country’. The percentage of people falling in this category keeps constantly rising. It was 23.7% in 2008, increased to 24.3% in 2011 and was measured at 24.8% in 2012. This ugly development came despite the fact that the reduction of poverty and social exclusion is the key target of the widely advertised ‘Europe 2020 strategy’, the EU’s growth strategy for the coming decade.

Just announcements

This is one more proof that politicians use these words in a completely deceptive way. It’s the well known tactics of ‘announcements’, but when it comes to core policies they forget their promises to the many and follow the way of the few. Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, some time ago boasted that the “Union has set five ambitious objectives – on employment, innovation, education, social inclusion and climate/energy – to be reached by 2020”. Needless to say that on all those accounts the EU is regressing, not progressing.

According to Eurostat “17% of the EU28 population in 2012 were at-risk-of-poverty after social transfers…The highest at-risk-of-poverty rates were observed in Greece and Romania (both 23%), Spain (22%), Bulgaria and Croatia (both 21%). Percentages of severe material income deprivation are even more embarrassing. It must be noted that material deprivation means people are not able to afford to pay their bills, keep their home adequately warm, or take a one week holiday away from home. This group of the population in the EU28 is 10%. “The share of those severely materially deprived varied significantly among Member States, ranging from less than 5% in Luxembourg and Sweden (both 1%), the Netherlands (2%), Denmark and Finland (both 3%) and Austria (4%), to 44% in Bulgaria, 30% in Romania and 26% in Latvia and Hungary”.

Out of work

An equal number of materially deprived (10%) are Europeans living in households with very low work intensity. It means that 10% of the EU population lives in households where the adults worked less than 20% of their total work potential during the past year. In this category also there are large variations between member states. Croatia (16%), Spain, Greece and Belgium (all 14%) had the highest proportion of those living in very low work intensity households, and Luxembourg and Cyprus (both 6%) the lowest.

There is no doubt that the still on-going financial crisis has weighted negatively on the economic and social conditions for a large part of the EU population. It’s equally true though, that countries which have more or less escaped the worst of the financial crisis like Germany and Denmark, still suffer of very large percentages of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion, around 20%. This is probably the price they paid to avoid the worst of the crisis. In any case, the EU is heading in the wrong direction compared to the key targets set by the 2020 Strategy. The question remains though, if this price had to be paid or it was the cost to keep the banks going.

 

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