Tackling Poverty

Who is at risk of poverty and what action is being taken?

Everybody may experience poverty at some time in his or her life. However some groups of people are more at risk of poverty such as families with children - especially large families and single-parent families - elderly people, disabled people and immigrants. In all categories, women are more affected than men.

The way poverty affects people is multi-faceted and sits hand-in-glove with social exclusion. In addition to well-known problems such as poor housing, or homelessness, people who are poor are also likely to endure:

  • Poor health and reduced access to healthcare
  • Reduced access to education, training and leisure activities
  • Financial exclusion and over-indebtedness
  • Limited access to modern technology, such as the Internet

To tackle these and other related issues, the EU provides a framework through which Member States develop their own priorities and strategies. This framework takes into account the multi-dimensional nature of poverty while focusing particular attention on the following:

  • Eliminating child poverty and poverty within families
  • Facilitating access to the labour markets, education and training
  • Overcoming discrimination and tackling the gender aspects and age aspects of poverty
  • Combating financial exclusion and over-indebtedness
  • Combating poor housing and housing exclusion
  • Promoting the social inclusion of vulnerable groups

Facts and figures on poverty in the EU
Key indicators per country

Child poverty

About 19 million children live in poverty across the EU. Children who grow up in poor households are more likely to remain trapped in poverty for the rest of their lives, as are their own offspring.

Children living in poverty face a number of inter-related difficulties including poor housing and healthcare, limited educational opportunities and a lack of good food and clothing.

In 2006, the European Council put the elimination of child poverty at the top of the EU’s political agenda. As a result, Member State governments have committed to developing strategic, long-term approaches to preventing and eliminating child poverty which embrace a wide range of social, cultural and economic policies.

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Access to housing is a fundamental right and everyone has to have a safe, secure roof over their heads. Nevertheless, thousands of Europeans do not have a place of their own.

People can become homeless for a number of reasons, from losing a job to fleeing domestic violence. In addition, many people living on the street are at risk of suffering from mental illnesses or become addicted to drugs or alcohol. People experiencing homelessness are among the most excluded and vulnerable people in society.

Aside from homelessness, housing deprivation or the excessive share of the cost of housing in a household’s budget can lead to further social exclusion.

Efforts to prevent and combat homelessness and housing exclusion centre on the EU’s Social Protection and Social Inclusion Strategy, which aims to coordinate Member State actions and encourage the sharing of best practices.

Work is ongoing to establish common definitions of homelessness, and to develop indicators. By gaining more knowledge about this subject and its context, better tools can be developed to fight homelessness and housing exclusion. These tools should support the EU and its Member States in producing more efficient policies to help homeless people.

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Vulnerable groups

Some population groups are more at risk of falling into poverty and social exclusion, such as families with children - especially large families and single parent families - elderly people, disabled people and immigrants.

These vulnerable groups often suffer from lower employment rates, higher school drop-out rates and are more likely to be financially excluded than other sections of society.

The EU wants to better understand why these groups are often affected by poverty and how best to include them in society. Common objectives and indicators are necessary to have a clear understanding of the problem. The measures adopted by the EU are as varied as the problems these groups face.

The goal is to improve the situation of these groups by:

  • Supporting the integration of immigrants and ethnic minorities in the labour market
  • Promoting the employment of people with disabilities
  • Adopting measures on equal treatment to combat discrimination

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Financial exclusion

Today, many Europeans – especially those experiencing poverty – cannot access financial services such as deposit and transactional accounts. They also find it difficult to secure savings, credit, insurance and payment services.

Access to financial services is essential for citizens to be economically and socially integrated in today's society. It is also a requirement for employment, economic growth, poverty reduction and social inclusion.

In some instances, people living on the breadline are prevented from having a bank account, which leads to further financial exclusion. To tackle these issues the EU coordinates policy and other action between stakeholders and Member State governments.

In 2009, the European Commission launched two public consultations in an effort to bring in rules that will ensure that most people can have access to a basic bank account:

The measures taken focus on supporting debt counselling services as well as information and education programmes.

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Inclusive labour market

Good quality employment is the most important factor in lifting people out of poverty and fostering social inclusion.

The problem is that the most vulnerable in society – such as single parents, immigrants, older people, young people, those with low qualifications and disabled people – are usually the least likely to find secure, lasting work. They are also the most likely to be affected by economic downturns, such as the one Europe is currently facing.

The EU has a range of policy and funding tools at its disposal to improve the job prospects of socially excluded groups. For example, the European Employment Strategy focuses on developing more and better jobs for all Europeans. Meanwhile the European Social Fund and other EU programmes provide funding for education, training and support in the workplace specifically to help vulnerable people find or retain jobs.

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Active inclusion

In a concerted effort to overcome poverty and social exclusion, the EU is encouraging Member States to develop active inclusion policies. Active inclusion focuses on getting as many people into work as possible, while ensuring that those who cannot enter the jobs market are given practical support so they can lead meaningful lives.

Active inclusion centres around three common principles:

  • Provision of adequate income support to avoid social exclusion
  • Helping those who can work to enter and remain in employment through inclusive labour markets
  • Improving access to quality social services, such as housing support, health services and childcare

The EU will encourage the development of active inclusion by coordinating action across Europe and by helping Member States learn from each other.

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