SDG 1 - No poverty
End poverty in all its forms everywhere
Data extracted in August 2018.
Planned article update: September 2019.
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 part of a set of statistical articles, which are based on the Eurostat publication ’Sustainable development in the European Union — Monitoring report - 2018 edition’. This report is the second edition of Eurostat’s future 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, 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. While the EU has achieved some progress on meeting the basic needs of its citizens over the past few years, it made only moderate progress on ending the different forms of 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, as it already employs a multidimensional measure of poverty in its Europe 2020 strategy where the aim is 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-concepts: 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 is not yet on track to reach its poverty target by 2020
In 2016, 118.0 million people, or 23.5 % of the EU population, were at risk of poverty or social exclusion. This means 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, but not steadily, while cross-country differences persist . The development of the risk of poverty or social exclusion in the EU over the past decade has been marked by two turning points: in 2009, after which the number of people at risk started to rise because of the delayed social effects of the economic crisis  and in 2012, when this upward trend reversed. By 2016, the number of people affected had fallen almost to 2008 levels. However, this recent improvement has not been enough for the EU to advance significantly towards the Europe 2020 strategy’s target, which would mean that no more than 96.1 million people in the EU are at risk of poverty or social exclusion by 2020 .
Income poverty was the most widespread form of poverty in the EU in 2016
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 86.9 million or 17.3 % of EU citizens, income poverty was the most prevalent form of poverty in the EU in 2016. 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 39.1 million people or 10.5 % of the EU population aged 18 to 59 . At the same time, 7.5 % of the EU population, or 37.8 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.
The three aspects of poverty followed different trends between 2005 and 2016. While income poverty has increased gradually since 2005 (from 16.5 % to 17.3 % in 2016), the number of people affected by very low work intensity was similar in 2005 and 2016. Since 2012, there has been a sharp decline in severe material deprivation, from 9.9 % of the EU population in 2012 to 7.5 % in 2016. 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 standard of living and income is much lower than that of the entire society he or she lives in. In other words, the at-risk rate 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. 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.
Over 37 million people, or nearly a third (31.7 %) of all people at risk of poverty or social exclusion, were affected by more than one dimension of poverty in 2016. Out of these, 8.4 million people, or one in 14 of those at risk of poverty or social exclusion (7.1 %), were affected by all three forms . Over time, the percentage of the EU population affected by all three forms of poverty has increased slightly: by 0.3 percentage points between 2008 and 2016. Simultaneously, the share of those affected by only one dimension of poverty decreased slightly from 16.5 % in 2008 to 15.8 % in 2016. 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 in the share of poverty within the EU but also across the world
The aggregated EU figure for the risk of poverty and social exclusion masks considerable differences between Member States, whose national risk of poverty and social exclusion rates ranged from 13.3 % to 40.4 % in 2016. 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 9.7 % to 25.3 %. The third sub-indicator, the share of people under 60 living in households with very low work intensity, varied the least across the EU, from 5.8 % to 18.2 %.
Overall, the share of EU citizens living in income poverty (17.3 % in 2016) is relatively low when compared to other main 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 Asian OECD countries and Russia were at the bottom end of this range, while income poverty was more prevalent in the Latin American OECD countries as well as Israel and the United States.
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 8.6 percentage points in 2016, from 25.9 %  to 17.3 %. However, the extent to which Member States were able to reduce their national at-risk-of-poverty rate through social transfers varied greatly, between 4.0 and 18.1 percentage points.
Single households, migrants and people with lower education face high risks of poverty or social exclusion
The overall rate of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion masks considerable differences between different groups of people. For instance, around two-thirds of children of parents with at most lower secondary education were at risk in 2016. Similarly, almost half of households with only one adult and one or more dependent children were at risk of poverty or social exclusion, while households with two adults faced a risk below the EU average. EU citizens born outside the EU also faced a much higher risk than locally born people.
Identifying especially vulnerable groups is an important key to creating sound policies to fight poverty. Several factors have an influence on poverty rates:
Differences by sex: In 2016, women were more likely to be at risk of poverty or social exclusion than men (the rate for women was 24.4 %, while for men it was 22.5 %). 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). Between 2008 and 2016, the overall gender poverty gap narrowed slightly. This reduction took place between 2012 and 2015 but the trend started to reverse again in the most recent year considered. The risk for women was also higher in all three sub-indicators.
Differences by age group: Young people aged 18 to 24 were the age group most at risk of poverty or social exclusion – almost a third were at risk in 2016 (30.6 %). This pattern was also present in all three sub-indicators. Moreover, compared to 2010, this group also experienced the greatest increase in the risk of poverty rate (by 1.2 percentage points), even though their situation showed some improvement between 2015 and 2016. In contrast, older people aged 65 or over had the lowest risk of poverty or social exclusion, at 18.2 % in 2016 .
Differences by household type: Single people with one or more dependent children had a 48.0 % likelihood of being at risk of poverty or social exclusion in 2016. This was just over 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 at an increased 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 2016, 34.8 % 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 (11.7 %). An increased risk for people with this educational background is also evident in all three sub-indicators. Moreover, with an at-risk of poverty or social exclusion rate of 63.7 %, children of parents with at most pre-primary or lower secondary education faced an especially grim situation. Their risk of poverty rate was almost six times higher than for children of parents with first- or second-stage tertiary education.
Differences by disability status: In 2016, people with disabilities were at a higher risk of poverty or social exclusion (around 30 %) than those without (around 20 %) .
Differences by degree of urbanisation: On average, EU citizens in rural areas were slightly more likely to live at risk of poverty or social exclusion than those in urban areas (25.5 % in rural areas compared with 23.6 % in urban areas) in 2016. Despite these overall results, in most northern, central and western Member States, the pattern was reversed, with people residing in urban areas more likely to be affected. Furthermore, while income poverty and severe material deprivation were more prevalent in rural areas in 2016, people living in households with very low work intensity were more often found in urban areas than in rural ones.
Differences by country of birth: In 2016, people living in the EU but born in a non-EU country had a 39.2 % risk of living in poverty or social exclusion. The rate was lower for people born in an EU country other than the one they were living in, at 24.5 %. Among people whose country of residence corresponded to their country of birth, 21.6 % were at risk of poverty or social exclusion. Thus, people born outside the EU were almost twice as likely to be at risk of poverty or social exclusion compared to those born in the reporting country. Compared to migration from a country located outside the EU, migration within the EU bears a far smaller 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, unemployed people are the most at risk of poverty or social exclusion, with about two-thirds at risk overall and 48.6 % at risk of income poverty in 2016. 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 six years, from 8.3 % in 2010 to 9.6 % in 2016.
The share of working poor varies across different groups of society. In general, the groups identified as more susceptible to poverty or social exclusion are also the groups more often affected by in-work poverty or social exclusion. Thus, compared to the 9.6 % of employed people who were at risk of poverty in 2016, the share was considerably larger among households headed by only one adult with dependent children (21.6 %) , people born outside the EU (at 20.8 %)  and people with at most pre-primary or lower secondary education (19.3 %) . Interestingly, except for those aged between 18 and 24, 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 likely to live in poverty or social exclusion than people with a permanent position (risk of 16.2 % instead of 5.8 %) in 2016 . Intuitively, whether people are employed full- or part-time also influences the risk of poverty or social exclusion despite employment. At 15.8 %, people employed part-time were twice as likely to be at risk of poverty or social exclusion as people working full-time, whose risk was at 7.8 % in 2016 .
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.
Adequate housing is unavailable to around a sixth of the EU population
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 an address is a precondition to getting a job. 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 the services available within one's vicinity . At the same time, people suffering from poverty are far more often restricted to sub-optimal housing than the overall population.
Inadequate housing – housing that is marked by a leaking roof; damp walls, floors or foundation; or rot in window frames or floors – affected 15.4 % of the EU population in 2016. This was 0.2 percentage points less than in 2011, but constitutes an increase compared to 2015. Among people living in income poverty, almost a quarter were affected by a dire housing situation. Regarding basic sanitary facilities, living conditions in European countries have improved. In 2016, 1.9 % of the overall EU population lived in a house or apartment equipped neither with a bath, nor with a shower, nor with an indoor flushing toilet. The situation has improved by 0.5 percentage points since 2011. Nevertheless, 5.8 % of people living below the income poverty threshold were still exposed to these housing deficiencies in 2016.
Another important aspect when considering adequate housing is the ability to keep one’s home warm. At a rate of 21.0 %, people afflicted by income poverty were far more often unable to keep their home adequately warm in 2016, while this rate was at 8.7 % among the overall population. The ability to keep one’s home warm has increased among the overall population since 2011. However, it has remained more or less constant among people faced by income poverty.
Furthermore, 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 2016, 16.6 % of the EU population lived in an overcrowded household. At 29.5 %, 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, so far, there are few official statistics on homelessness, and those that exist are rarely comparable between countries . The OECD nonetheless estimated the number of homeless people as a share of the population for some selected countries . Among EU Member States where data was 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 % (Czech Republic), with the share 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 the costs, distance and waiting time. In 2016, 2.5 % of the EU population aged 16 and above reported unmet needs for medical care, a distinct improvement of 0.9 percentage points compared to 2011. Cost was the main reason given for impeded access to health care services, indicated by 1.6 % of the EU population. Again, the overall average masks considerable differences between income groups. While only 1.1 % of the richest 20 % of the population reported unmet care needs, this was the case for 5.0 % of people in the poorest population quintile .
Poverty can harm people’s lives and limit their opportunities to achieve their full potential. 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 among 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, social protection and employment systems – can prevent long-term losses 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 and working poverty. Meeting the basic needs of its citizens and eradicating all forms of poverty has been a priority of the EU, which is also reflected in the Europe 2020 strategy. The EU’s goal is to lift at least 20 million people out of the risk of poverty and social exclusion by 2020 compared to the year 2008 .
Further reading on no poverty
- European Commission (2017), Employment and Social Developments in Europe, Annual Reviews 2017, Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.
- European Commission (2018), Employment and Social Developments in Europe, Annual Reviews 2018, Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.
- European Commission (2018), Joint Employment Report 2018, Brussels: Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion.
- European Commission (2017), European Semester Thematic Factsheet, Social Inclusion.
- European Union (2017), Social Protection Committee Annual Report 2017, Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.
- European Union (2017), Monitoring social inclusion in Europe, 2017 edition, Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.
- United Nation (2018), The Sustainable Development Goals Report, New York: United Nations Publications.
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 - 2018 edition’.
- Data refer to EU-27 (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-27 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 article use the year 2008 for comparison. Since 116.1 million people were at risk of poverty or social exclusion in the EU-27 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.
- The year of reference differs for the three sub-indicators. The risk of poverty after social transfers and 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 and Turkey, 2014: New Zealand, Australia and Mexico, 2013: Brazil, 2012: Japan, 2011: Russia). 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_iw02))
- Source: Eurostat (online data code: (ilc_iw16))
- 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.
- European Commission (2013), Social trends and dynamics of poverty, ESDE conference, Brussels.
- European Commission (2010), Europe 2020 – A strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth, COM(2010) 2020 final, Brussels.