SDG 1 - No poverty
End poverty in all its forms everywhere
Data extracted in May 2019.
Planned article update: June 2020.
This article provides an overview of statistical data on SDG 1 ‘No poverty’ in the European Union (EU). It is based on the set of EU SDG indicators for monitoring of progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in an EU context.
This article is a part of a set of statistical articles, which are based on the Eurostat publication ’Sustainable development in the European Union — Monitoring report - 2019 edition’. This report is the third edition of Eurostat’s series of monitoring reports on sustainable development, which provide a quantitative assessment of progress of the EU towards the SDGs in an EU context.
Goal 1 calls for the eradication of poverty in all its manifestations. It envisions shared prosperity, a basic standard of living and social protection benefits for people everywhere, including the poorest and most vulnerable. The goal seeks to ensure equal rights and access to economic and natural resources.
No poverty in the EU: overview and key trends
Monitoring SDG 1 in an EU context involves tracking aspects related to multidimensional poverty and basic needs. Overall, in recent years the EU has made progress in most aspects of poverty, although more needs to be done to reach its poverty and social exclusion 2020 target. As a result, progress is visible for most forms of poverty tracked in this chapter, except for in-work poverty and income poverty, as shown in Table 1.
SDG 1 calls for the eradication of extreme poverty, which the UN defines as the share of people living on less than USD 1.90 a day. While this definition is less relevant in the EU context, SDG 1 also calls for poverty in all its dimensions to be halved by 2030. This universal approach to reducing poverty is directly relevant for the EU, which already employs a multidimensional measure of poverty in its Europe 2020 strategy, with the aim to ‘lift at least 20 million people out of the risk of poverty or social exclusion’ by 2020 compared with the year 2008.
The headline indicator on poverty within the Europe 2020 strategy is based on three sub-dimensions: income poverty, low work intensity and material deprivation. By using this multidimensional approach, the indicator highlights other issues in addition to relatively low income that can also put people at a disadvantage to the rest of society. It also underlines that these issues are closely interlinked. Combined, they reflect the extent to which parts of the population are at risk of exclusion and marginalisation from economic, social and cultural activities.
Despite recent improvements, the EU remains far from its 2020 poverty target
In 2017, 113.0 million people, or 22.4 % of the EU population, were at risk of poverty or social exclusion. This means that despite recent improvements, nearly one in four people in the EU experienced at least one of the following three forms of poverty: income poverty, severe material deprivation, or very low work intensity. Compared to 2005, the share of people affected has declined, although not steadily, while cross-country differences persist . Over the past decade, the risk of poverty or social exclusion rate in the EU has been marked by two turning points: a low point of 23.3 % in 2009, after which the number of people at risk started to rise because of the delayed social effects of the economic crisis  and a peak of 24.7 % in 2012, when this upward trend reversed. By 2017, the number of people affected had even fallen below 2008 levels. However, while this recent improvement means the EU is finally advancing towards the Europe 2020 strategy’s target of having no more than 96.1 million people at risk of poverty or social exclusion , additional efforts will be necessary to reach it.
Income poverty was the most widespread form of poverty in the EU in 2017
The three aspects of poverty covered by the multidimensional poverty indicator tend to overlap and some people are affected by two or even all three forms of poverty. At 85.3 million, or 16.9 % of EU citizens, income poverty was the most prevalent form of poverty in the EU in 2017. This means that after social transfers these people had an equivalised disposable income of less than 60 % of the national median. The second most frequent form of poverty was very low work intensity, affecting 35.3 million people or 9.5 % of the EU population aged 18 to 59 . At the same time, 6.6 % of the EU population, or 33.1 million people, were affected by severe material deprivation, meaning they were unable to afford four or more items out of a list of nine considered by most people to be desirable or even necessary for an adequate life.
Between 2005 and 2017, the share of people affected by severe material deprivation and the share of people living in households with very low work intensity roughly followed the same path as the overall ‘risk of poverty or social exclusion’ indicator. After initially declining between 2005 and 2009, the share of people in these categories increased again in the aftermath of the economic crisis, peaking in 2012 and 2014, respectively. Since then, the shares have fallen considerably, reaching new lows in 2017. Conversely, income poverty increased more or less continuously between 2005 and 2016, only dropping in 2017 (from 17.3 % in 2016 to 16.9 % in 2017) .
Such diverging trends among the three sub-indicators can arise because of their different nature and the three related but distinct concepts of poverty they represent. Income poverty is a relative measure and reflects whether someone’s living standard and income is much lower than that of the entire society he or she lives in. In other words, the at-risk rate also depends on the income level enjoyed by most people in a country or region. This means that even in times of increasing average or median income, the relative poverty rate could remain stable (or even increase), depending on changes in the distribution of income of the overall population. Severe material deprivation measures poverty from a different angle and indicates a lack of resources to cover certain material needs. It is likely to decrease during economic recoveries when people are generally financially better off.
Almost 34 million people, or nearly a third (29.8 %) of all people at risk of poverty or social exclusion, were affected by more than one dimension of poverty in 2017. Out of these, 7.1 million people, or one in 16 of those at risk of poverty or social exclusion (6.3 %), were affected by all three forms . Although the percentage of the EU population affected by all three forms of poverty fluctuated between 2008 and 2017, it ended the decade in 2017 at the same level as in 2008. Simultaneously, the share of those affected by only one dimension of poverty decreased from 81.6 million people in 2008 to 79.3 million people in 2017. Thus, despite the favourable decrease in the overall share of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion, the depth of hardship for those affected has increased slightly.
Considerable differences exist in the share of poverty within the EU and across the world
The aggregated EU figure for the risk of poverty or social exclusion masks considerable differences between Member States, whose national risk of poverty and social exclusion rates ranged from 12.2 % to 38.9 % in 2017. Among the three sub-indicators, the largest differences within the EU were observed for severe material deprivation, which is practically non-existent in some Member States and affects around a third of the population in others. Income poverty varies considerably less across Member States, ranging from 9.1 % to 23.6 %. The third sub-indicator, the share of people under 60 living in households with very low work intensity, showed the least deviation across the EU, from 5.4 % to 16.2 %.
Overall, the share of EU citizens living in income poverty (16.9 % in 2017) is relatively low when compared to other major economies worldwide. In most non-EU OECD countries, this value was roughly between 20 % and 25 % . Commonwealth countries in the OECD outside the EU (Australia, Canada and New Zealand) as well as Japan were at the bottom end of this range, while income poverty was more prevalent in the Latin American OECD countries (Chile and Mexico) as well as Korea, Israel, the United States and Turkey.
To reduce poverty, governments provide a range of social transfers, such as unemployment benefits, sickness and invalidity benefits and minimum income benefits. The impact of these transfers can be assessed by comparing the at-risk-of-poverty rate before and after social transfers. In the EU, social transfers reduced the share of people at risk of poverty by 8.7 percentage points in 2017, from 25.6 %  to 16.9 %. However, the extent to which Member States were able to reduce their national at-risk-of-poverty rates through social transfers varied greatly, between 3.8 and 17.3 percentage points. Note that pensions are excluded from this comparison.
Single households, migrants and people with lower education as well as their children face high risks of poverty or social exclusion
To focus only on the overall rate of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion would mean ignoring several other groups of society that face considerably larger risks. For instance, about two-thirds of children of parents with at most lower secondary education were at risk in 2017. Similarly, more than half of the population born outside the EU-28 were at risk of poverty or social exclusion, while the risk faced by locally born people is below the EU average. Households with only one adult and one or more dependent children also faced a much higher risk than households with two adults (with or without children). Identifying especially vulnerable groups is an important key to creating sound policies to fight poverty. Several factors influence poverty rates, as described in more detail in the following paragraphs.
Differences by sex: In 2017, more women were at risk of poverty or social exclusion than men (the rate for women was 23.3 %, while for men it was 21.6 %). Because women are more likely to experience the long-term effects of reduced labour market participation than men, the gender poverty gap — the difference in the risk of poverty rate between men and women — is highest in the oldest age group (65 or over). The gap is visible in all three sub-indicators, although the overall gender poverty gap decreased between 2008 and 2017.
Differences by age group: Young people aged 18 to 24 were the age group most at risk of poverty or social exclusion – around three out of ten were at risk in 2017 (29.2 %). This pattern was also present in all three sub-indicators. Moreover, this group’s risk of poverty or social exclusion increased slightly over the past decade, while the poverty risk remained stable or decreased in all other age groups. In 2017, only 18.2 % of older people aged 65 or over were at risk of poverty or social exclusion, the lowest share of all age groups .
Differences by household type: 47.0 % of single-parent households with one or more dependent children were at risk of poverty or social exclusion in 2017. This was more than twice the average rate and higher than for any other household type. However, this group experienced the largest decline in the percentage at risk since 2010, when the rate was at 52.2 %. In general, households with only one adult – both with children and without – and households with three or more children are more often at risk of poverty or social exclusion. In single-adult households, there is limited support to cushion temporary disruptions such as unemployment or sickness. Single parents also face the challenge of being both the primary breadwinner and caregiver for the family. Both of these roles are time-consuming and often not easily compatible, especially when affordable and high-quality child care is not available to the family.
Differences by educational level: In 2017, 34.3 % of people with at most lower secondary educational attainment were at risk of poverty or social exclusion — a rate around three times higher than for people with tertiary education (11.0 %). An increased risk for people with this educational background is also evident in all three sub-indicators. Moreover, children of parents with at most pre-primary or lower secondary education are especially disadvantaged, as two-thirds of these children are at risk of poverty or social exclusion. Their risk-of-poverty rate was almost eight times higher than for children of parents with first- or second-stage tertiary education.
Differences by disability status: In 2017, 36.0 % of people with severe disabilities were at risk of poverty or social exclusion. Likewise, this risk was higher for people with some activity limitation (26.3 %) compared to people without any handicap (19.9 %) .
Differences by degree of urbanisation: A slightly higher share of EU citizens in rural areas were at risk of poverty or social exclusion than those in urban areas (23.9 % in rural areas compared with 22.6 % in urban areas) in 2017. Despite these overall results, in many northern, central and western Member States, the pattern was reversed, with people residing in urban areas more likely to be affected.
Differences by country of birth: In 2017, 38.3 % of people who were living in the EU but born in a non-EU country were at risk of poverty or social exclusion. The rate was lower for people born in an EU country other than the one they were living in, at 22.7 %. Among people living in their country of birth, 20.7 % were at risk of poverty or social exclusion. Thus, the share of EU residents born outside the EU who were at risk of poverty or social exclusion was almost twice that of those born in the reporting country, while mobility within the EU does not lead to a comparable increase in the risk of poverty or social exclusion.
Having a job is not a guarantee against poverty or social exclusion
Of all the different groups based on employment status in the EU, the share of unemployed people at risk of poverty or social exclusion was highest, with about two-thirds at risk overall and 48.1 % at risk of income poverty in 2017. However, poverty or social exclusion can also affect employed people. After remaining relatively stable between 2005 and 2010, the share of people unable to escape the risk of poverty despite being employed – the so-called working poor – has increased over the past seven years, from 8.3 % in 2010 to 9.4 % in 2017.
The share of working poor varies across different groups of society. In general, the groups with a higher share of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion are also the groups more often affected by in-work poverty or social exclusion. Thus, compared to the 9.4 % of employed people who were at risk of poverty in 2017, the share was considerably larger among people born outside the EU (at 21.4 %) , households headed by only one adult with dependent children (21.9 %) , and people with at most pre-primary or lower secondary education (20.2 %) . Interestingly, except for those aged between 18 and 24 and people at retirement age, men were more often among the working poor than women, although these differences were smaller than between the other sub-groups mentioned. This is because women are more often secondary earners in their families, meaning the household income does not depend solely on them .
The extent to which someone is affected by in-work poverty strongly depends on the terms and conditions of their employment. Employees working under a temporary contract were around three times more often at risk of poverty or social exclusion than people with a permanent position (rates of 16.2 % and 5.8 %, respectively) in 2017 . In addition, whether people are employed full- or part-time also influences the risk of poverty or social exclusion rate. In 2017, the share of people working part-time who were at risk of poverty or social exclusion (15.6 %) was twice that of people working full-time (7.7 %) .
Being at risk of poverty can have a severe impact on a person’s ability to meet their basic needs such as being able to afford adequate housing, keeping their home adequately warm or receiving medical treatment when needed.
Poor people often suffer from inadequate housing conditions
An adequate living situation, defined by the United Nations as a safe and secure home and community in which to live in peace and dignity , is necessary for active inclusion in society. For example, in many cases having an address is a precondition to getting a job or even to getting identification documents. In addition, the costs of housing determine what is left of household budgets for other expenses, such as for education and culture, or even food. Furthermore, the local neighbourhood is particularly relevant because of social networks and services provided close by . At the same time, people suffering from poverty are far more often restricted to sub-optimal housing than the overall population.
Inadequate housing — marked by a leaking roof, damp walls, floors or foundation, or rot in window frames or floors — affected 13.3 % of the EU population in 2017. This share was considerably lower than in 2012, when 15.1 % of the EU population lived in meagre housing facilities. The biggest drop took place in 2017 and was mainly due to improvements in southern European countries. Among people living in income poverty, more than a fifth were affected by inadequate housing. Regarding basic sanitary facilities, living conditions in European countries have improved. In 2017, 1.8 % of the overall EU population lived in a house or apartment equipped with neither a bath, nor with a shower, nor with an indoor flushing toilet. This marks a 0.5 percentage points improvement since 2012. Nevertheless, 6.1 % of people living below the income poverty threshold were still exposed to these housing deficiencies in 2017.
Another important aspect when considering adequate housing is the ability to keep one’s home warm. In 2017, 18.4 % of people afflicted by income poverty were unable to keep their home adequately warm, compared with 7.8 % for the overall population. However, the rate has decreased among the both groups since 2012.
Many EU citizens also share a dwelling with more people than there is space for and thus face overcrowding  within their household. Such living conditions can significantly affect quality of life by restricting opportunities for movement, rest, sleep, privacy and hygiene. In 2017, 15.7 % of the EU population lived in an overcrowded household, continuing the downward trend since 2012, when the rate was 16.9 %. At 26.5 %, the incidence of overcrowding was almost twice as high for people with an income below the poverty threshold.
One of the most extreme consequences of poverty and social exclusion is homelessness. However, there are few official statistics on homelessness, and those that do exist are rarely comparable between countries . For some selected countries, the OECD has nonetheless estimated the number of homeless people as a share of the population . Among EU Member States for which data were available (22 countries, excluding Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Malta, Romania and Slovakia), the estimated share of homeless people ranged from 0.01 % of the population (Croatia) to 0.65 % (Czechia), with the share being below 0.25 % in most cases. These estimates refer to the period 2006 to 2015.
People who self-report unmet needs for medical care most commonly cite costs as the reason
As with access to adequate housing, access to health care services may help break the spiral of poor health that contributes to, and results from, poverty and exclusion. In turn, this may contribute to increased productivity, improved quality of life and reduced costs associated with social protection systems. Barriers to accessing health services include costs, distance and waiting time. In 2017, 1.7 % of the EU population aged 16 and above reported unmet needs for medical care, which is a distinct improvement of 1.8 percentage points compared with 2012. Cost was the main reason given, indicated by 1.0 % of the EU population. People with lower incomes face a much higher share of unmet needs for medical care. While only 0.2 % of the richest 20 % of the population reported unmet care needs due to financial constraints, 2.3 % of people in the poorest population quintile reported that this was the case .
Poverty harms people’s lives and hampers social cohesion and economic growth. It limits their opportunities to achieve their full potential, their active participation in society and their access to quality services. It is usually associated with poor health, low salaries, unemployment and low educational outcomes. Poverty is a multidimensional phenomenon and has a tendency to persist over time and to be transmitted across generations, meaning that children born into poverty bear a higher risk of poverty in adult life than the average population . Coordinated policy interventions — such as effective redistribution, education, health, active labour market inclusion and access to integrated social services of high quality — can prevent the long-term loss of economic productivity from whole groups of society and encourage inclusive and sustainable growth . Poverty can take on various forms, including, but not limited to, income poverty, material deprivation, very low work intensity and in-work poverty. Meeting its citizen’s basic needs and eradicating all forms of poverty has been a priority of the EU. This objective is reflected in the Europe 2020 strategy, which sets an EU target to lift at least 20 million people out of the risk of poverty and social exclusion by 2020 compared to the year 2008 .
More detailed information on EU SDG indicators for monitoring of progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), such as indicator relevance, definitions, methodological notes, background and potential linkages, can be found in the introduction of the publication ’Sustainable development in the European Union — Monitoring report - 2019 edition’.
Further reading on no poverty
- European Commission (2018), Employment and Social Developments in Europe, Annual Reviews 2018, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.
- European Commission (2019), Joint Employment Report 2019, Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, Brussels.
- European Commission (2017), European Semester Thematic Factsheet, Social Inclusion.
- European Union (2018), Social Protection Committee Annual Report 2018, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.
- European Union (2017), Monitoring social inclusion in Europe, 2017 edition, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.
- United Nation (2018), The Sustainable Development Goals Report, United Nations Publications, New York.
- Data refer to EU without Croatia (from 2005 to 2009) and EU-28 (from 2010 onwards).
- For the development following 2009, see European Commission's Directorate General for Economic and Financial Affairs (2014), Poverty developments in the EU after the crisis: a look at main drivers. ECFIN Economic Brief.
- Due to the structure of the survey on which most of the key social data is based (EU Statistics on Income and Living Conditions), a large part of the main social indicators available in 2010, when the Europe 2020 strategy was adopted, referred to 2008 as the most recent year of data available. This is why 2008 data for the EU (without Croatia) are used as the baseline year for monitoring progress towards the Europe 2020 strategy's poverty target. For the same reason, the country breakdowns in this chapter use the year 2008 for comparison. Since 116.1 million people were at risk of poverty or social exclusion in the EU (without Croatia) in 2008, the target value to be reached is 96.1 million by 2020.
- The dimension ‘very low work intensity’ is only measured among those aged 0–59. Therefore, people over the age of 59 are considered at risk of poverty or social exclusion only if the criteria of one of the two dimensions ‘income poverty’ or ‘severe material deprivation’ are met.
- Data mentioned in this paragraph refer to EU without Croatia (from 2005 to 2009) and EU-28 (from 2010 onwards).
- The year of reference differs for the three sub-indicators. Data for the risk of poverty after social transfers and for whether or not someone lives in a household with very low work intensity are based on data from the previous year. The extent to which an individual is severely materially deprived is determined based on information from the year of the survey.
- These values are taken from the OECD dataset on Income Distribution and Poverty and correspond to the newest data available in this set (2016: the USA and Israel, 2015: Chile, Korea, Canada, Israel and Turkey, 2014: New Zealand, Australia and Mexico, 2012: Japan). All data are based on the OECD’s new income definition, which includes the value of goods produced for own consumption as a component of self-employed income, an element not considered in the SILC income definition.
- Source: Eurostat (online data code: (ilc_li10))
- Reasons for this could include that many elderly people receive regular pensions, have accrued some wealth and have often paid off their housing situation.
- In EU-SILC, disability is approximated according to the concept of global activity limitation, which is defined as a ‘limitation in activities people usually do because of health problems for at least the past six months’. This is considered to be an adequate proxy for disability, both by the scientific community as well as disabled persons’ organisations.
- Source: Eurostat (online data code: (ilc_iw16))
- Source: Eurostat (online data code: (ilc_iw02))
- Source: Eurostat (online data code: (ilc_iw04))
- For more insights, see European Institute for Gender Equality (2016), Poverty, gender and intersecting inequalities in the EU: Report, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.
- Source: Eurostat (online data code: (ilc_iw05))
- Source: Eurostat (online data code: (ilc_iw07))
- For more information on the definition of adequate housing, see the United Nations (2014), The Right to Adequate Housing: Fact Sheet No. 21/Rev.1.
- Eurocities Network of Local Authority Observatories on Active Inclusion (2010), Supporting Active Inclusion Through Housing – A Response From Five European Cities.
- A household is considered overcrowded it does not have at least one room for the entire household as well as a room for a couple, for each single person above 18, for a pair of teenagers (12 to 17 years of age) of the same sex, for each teenager of different sex and for a pair of children (under 12 years of age).
- For more information see FEANTSA and Abbé Pierre Foundation (2018), Third overview of housing exclusion in Europe as well as European Commission (2007), Measurement of homelessness at EU level.
- Refer to the OECD’s Affordable Housing Database for more information.
- Source: Eurostat (online data code: (hlth_silc_08))
- For more information, see Eurostat (2013), Statistics Explained, Intergenerational transmission of disadvantage statistics.
- [ https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/file_import/european-semester_thematic-factsheet_addressing-inequalities_en_0.pdf European Commission (2017), European Semester Thematic Factsheet, Addressing Inequalities.]
- European Commission (2010), Europe 2020 – A strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth, COM(2010) 2020 final, Brussels.