More than a third of the population in Bulgaria, Romania, Greece, Latvia and Hungary are at risk of poverty and social exclusion, according to a new report. In half of the EU’s 28 member states, at least one in three children live in poverty.
The report, Poverty and Inequalities on the Rise – Just social systems needed as the solution!, was published on Thursday (19 February) by Caritas Europa, an umbrella organisation which fights poverty and social exclusion.
It found disturbing levels of deprivation in the seven EU countries worst hit by the economic crisis: Cyprus, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Romania and Spain.
According to the report, almost half of Bulgarians (48%) and more than 40% of Romanians are currently at risk of poverty.
In fourteen out of the EU’s 28 member states, one in three children are considered to be living in poverty.
The Caritas figures are broadly confirmed by the EU’s official statistical agency, Eurostat, which ascertained that one in four citizens were at risk of poverty and social exclusion in 2013.
Testimonies from Spain, Greece
The Caritas report’s conclusions are based on grass-roots life testimonies from its workers on the ground.
One focus in the report is unemployment. In Spain, Caritas is concerned about the rising difficulty faced by its beneficiaries in getting a job. According to Caritas Spain, the problem is affecting both those who had a stable working situation prior to the crisis and also those who did not.
Caritas in Greece is likewise concerned about an upward trend in unemployment across all ages, with the situation of younger people – especially women – particularly concerning, highlighting the failure of so-called job “activation measures”.
Caritas Greece also noted that a high level of unemployed people were unable to access their benefits. At the same time, Greece is witnessing increases in health problems, worsening xenophobia and racism, and increased migration, often of young people with skills, illustrating the desperate situation of the unemployed.
Alexis Tsipras, the country’s newly-elected leftist Prime Minister, has called on the EU tackle what he described as a “humanitarian crisis across Europe” caused by austerity.
>> Watch our video: Tsipras wants a deal to ‘tackle humanitarian crisis across EU’
The Caritas report calls on the EU and its member states to give greater attention to social issues when addressing the ongoing crisis, instead of mainly focusing on the economy.
Austerity policies put in place to tackle budget deficits and reduce Europe’s growing debt pile were having a devastating impact on the people of Europe, Caritas warned, adding that the failure to “provide concrete support on the scale required […] is likely to prolong the crisis.”
Instead, the report recommends putting in place a guaranteed minimum income allowing each and everyone to live in dignity. Tax evasion should also be tackled, while those who can afford to contribute more should do so, Caritas pleaded.
Jorge Nuño Mayer, secretary general of Caritas Europa, said the report confirms that alternative policy solutions are necessary, reminding politicians that they have a choice when deciding measures to alleviate the crisis.
“The Europe documented in this report is not just. The prioritisation of austerity measures has not solved the crisis but rather is causing social problems and unrest that risk having lasting impacts worldwide,” he said.
Reducing the number of persons at risk of poverty and social exclusion in the EU is one of the key targets of the Europe 2020 strategy for growth and jobs.
EU heads of states signed up to the 'Europe 2020' strategy in June 2010, defining five "headline targets" for the end of the decade:
- Raising the employment rate of the population aged 20-64 from 69% in 2010 to 75% in 2020.
- Raising investment in R&D to 3% of the EU's GDP.
- Meeting the EU's climate change and energy objective for 2020 to cut greenhouse gas emission and energy consumption by 20% and source 20% of its energy needs to renewables.
- Reducing the share of early school-leavers from 15% to under 10% and making sure that at least 40% of those aged 30-34 have completed tertiary education.
- Reducing the number of Europeans living below the poverty line by 25%, lifting 20 million out of poverty from the current 80 million.