Roma people – their fight against poverty and prejudice

With a population of about 10 to 12 million people distributed over many countries, the Roma constitutes one of Europe’s largest ethnic minorities. But no matter where they live the Roma are at greater risk of poverty and social exclusion than most Europeans.

A survey carried out for the European Commission revealed that one-quarter of Europeans would feel uncomfortable having a Roma neighbour. And more than half the Roma questioned in a recent poll revealed that they had been discriminated against at least once in the previous year.

A Commission report from 2008 also backs-up the view that the Roma face deeply entrenched exclusion and discrimination while being exposed to high rates of poverty.

Cycle of deprivation

Discrimination in the jobs market, combined with their generally poor educational attainment and lack of skills, means that the Roma suffer high rates of unemployment.

Roma women in particular are likely to find themselves discriminated against and exploited. They often have to take poorly paid jobs in the unregulated economy, which means they go without social benefits such as pensions and sick leave.

Lack of economic opportunity and low wages feeds into a cycle of deprivation for many Roma. Bad housing conditions and discrimination in the housing market also underpin Roma exclusion.

Poor health and inadequate access to health care services are also key issues that the Roma have to deal with. The Commission estimates that the life expectancy of the Roma is some 10 to 15 years lower than that of the majority population.

Action for the Roma

An inaugural EU Roma summit took place in Brussels in 2008, which was attended by more than 400 delegates. The second summit takes place in Cordoba, Spain on 8 April 2010, which is also International Roma Day.

The main outcome of the first conference was the creation of the EU Platform for Roma inclusion. The platform includes active participation by Roma groups and will exchange good practice between Member States.

The platform has developed 10 basic principles to guide the EU, Member States and candidate countries when they design and implement policies or projects to help the Roma.

The principles are as follows:

1. Constructive, pragmatic and non-discriminatory policies

2. Explicit but not exclusive targeting

3. Inter-cultural approach

4. Aiming for the mainstream

5. Awareness of the gender dimension

6. Transfer of evidence-based policies

7. Use of Community instruments

8. Involvement of regional and local authorities

9. Involvement of civil society

10. Active participation of the Roma

Explicit but not exclusive targeting should be carried out which does not single out the Roma as a distinct group, but instead aims to improve the living standards and environment of all those who have to cope with similar conditions.

An inter-cultural approach should be taken which stresses that the Roma and society at large can learn from each other. Inter-cultural learning and skills should be promoted at the same time as tackling prejudices and stereotypes.

Aiming for the mainstream means ensuring that inclusion policies are integrated with policies in areas like education, health, employment, social affairs and housing.

These principles represent a legally non-binding political declaration. Nevertheless, the Member States are committed to using them when they develop initiatives for the Roma.

The principles were annexed by Member State employment and social affairs ministers in June 2008 to their conclusions on Roma inclusion.

The second Roma summit will address a range of topics such as gender equality and discrimination; how to get civil society more involved in Roma causes; and learning from policy successes and failures. Tackling health inequalities and improving the efficiency of EU instruments at local level are also on the agenda.

Highlighting the plight of the Roma is also a key thematic priority for the 2010 European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion.

For further information

EU and the Roma homepage

EU Roma Summit page

European Network Against Racism – Roma newsletter