Saturday, July 29, 2017

EU Poverty Continues

Europe’s economic downturn seems to be behind it. Gone are the days of negative growth rates. Unemployment is still stabilising. So it may come as a surprise to discover that poverty is not declining. This means that close to one in four Europeans experience at least one or more of the following conditions: income poverty, severe material deprivation and/or social exclusion. The phenomenon is fuelling the debate about the rise of Europe’s so-called “gig economy” – a labour market characterised by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs

In 2015, more than a third of the population was at risk of poverty or social exclusion in three member states: Bulgaria (41.3%), Romania (37.4%) and Greece (35.7%). At the opposite end of the scale, the lowest shares of persons being at risk of poverty or social exclusion were recorded in the Czech Republic (14%) and Sweden (16%).
On average, children are more adversely affected than adults or elderly people with a whopping 27% living in poor households across Europe. Child poverty happens in rich countries too: France, Germany or the UK are not spared.
According to recent surveys, child poverty in the UK is at its highest level since 2010. Two thirds of these children are from working families, who make up Europe’s so-called working poor people who have jobs, but can’t make ends meet. A similar pattern emerges in Germany, one of the world’s strongest economies, which is also grappling with increasing poverty and inequality.
However, poverty and destitution are far worse if you move eastward or to the south of Europe. In Spain, while the economy grew by 3.2% in 2016, close to one in three Spaniards live in poverty, getting by on roughly 8.000 euros or less per year. Here, again, it is children who are the worst affected. In the southern province of Andalusia, close to 40% of people live in poverty while child poverty reaches 44%. More than 40% of children live in poverty in Sevilla. It may be a prime tourist destination, but it is also the country’s fifth poorest city.

Spain has one of the highest growth rates in the eurozone. But poverty rates in Andalusia are the same as they were at the height of the crisis, says Mariano Perez de Ayala, the regional head of Caritas (the Catholic Agency for International Aid and Development). According to him, austerity policies and labor law reforms have led to more precarity in Spain.
“Our system doesn’t smooth out inequalities in times of economic boom, and it destroys a lot of jobs and deepens inequalities in times of crisis,” he says. We have seen the rise of a neo-liberal model that undermines the social welfare system. Labour reforms that have been implemented according to this model have been detrimental to the social achievements of recent years.”

Asunción Campanario has not had a permanent job for nine years. A mother of two, she also takes care of her elderly mother. She says she and her husband simply couldn’t cope without the help of charities. She she doesn’t expect to see things improve anytime soon: “This will last,” she tells us. “Politicians will keep on stealing money and filling their pockets. They only think of themselves! And we, the poor people, we are the last in the world! We’ll just keep on being poor. The poor will get poorer and the rich will get richer. It’s always been that way.”

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