SDG 1 - No poverty
End poverty in all its forms everywhere
Data extracted in May 2021.
Planned article update: June 2022.
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 on progress towards the SDGS in an EU context — 2021 edition’. This report is the fifth 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.
SDG 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. In recent years, the EU has made significant progress in almost all aspects of poverty tracked in this chapter, and moderate progress in reducing the share of people at risk of income poverty after social transfers, as shown in Table 1.
SDG 1 not only calls for the eradication of extreme poverty but also for poverty in all its dimensions to be halved by 2030. This universal approach to reducing poverty is directly relevant to the EU, which already employs a multidimensional measure of poverty in its European Pillar of Social Rights.
The at-risk-of-poverty-or-social-exclusion (AROPE) indicator is based on three sub-dimensions: income poverty, very low work intensity and severe material deprivation. Through this multidimensional approach, the indicator shows which share of the population is at risk of exclusion and marginalisation from economic and social activities.
The overall at-risk-of-poverty-or-social-exclusion rate has been decreasing in the EU since 2012
In 2019, 20.9 % of the EU population, were at risk of poverty or social exclusion, a decrease of 3.6 percentage points since 2014. It is worth noting that the EU’s at-risk-of-poverty-or-social-exclusion rate increased between 2009 and 2012 because of the delayed social effects of the economic crisis , but has been falling ever since.
All dimensions of poverty have been reduced in the EU
The three dimensions of poverty or social exclusion covered by the at-risk-of-poverty-or-social-exclusion indicator represent three related but distinct concepts that for some people overlap, meaning they can be affected by two or even all three dimensions at the same time. Income poverty is a relative measure and reflects whether someone’s (equivalised disposable) income is below 60 % of the median income in their country. In other words, the at-risk-of-poverty rate depends on the income level enjoyed by most people in a country or region. This means that even during times of increasing median income, the relative poverty rate could remain stable, or even increase, depending on changes in income distribution across the overall population. Rates of severe material deprivation (indicating a lack of resources to cover certain material needs) and people living in households with very low work intensity (jobless or quasi-jobless households) are likely to decrease during economic recoveries when people are generally better off financially and the labour market situation has improved.
Income poverty was the most prevalent form of poverty in the EU in 2019, affecting 16.5 % of the population. This means that after social transfers these people had an equivalised disposable income of less than 60 % of the national median. With a considerable gap, the second most frequent form of poverty was very low work intensity, which refers to people living in households where the adults worked no more than 20 % of their total work potential during the past year. This form of poverty affected 8.3 % of the EU population aged below 60 in 2019 . In the same year, 5.5 % of the population were affected by severe material deprivation. This third form of poverty means 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.
Of all of the people at risk of poverty or social exclusion in the EU in 2019, 28.1 % were affected by more than one dimension of poverty. And 5.9 % were affected by all three forms .
As Figures 2, 3 and 4 show, the three sub-indicators of poverty and social exclusion have all decreased in recent years. For severely materially deprived people the trend began in 2012 and for people living in households with very low work intensity it started in 2014. However, income poverty has only been falling since 2016.
To reduce poverty, governments provide a wide range of policies, such as income support though various benefits (for example, unemployment benefits, sickness and invalidity benefits, and minimum income benefits), tax policies and provision of services. The impact of the transfers can be assessed by comparing the at-risk-of-poverty rate before and after social transfers, excluding pensions. In the EU, social transfers reduced the share of people at risk of poverty in 2019 from 24.4 %  to 16.5 %, which corresponds to a reduction by 32.4 % .
Considerable differences in poverty rates exist within the EU
The aggregated EU figure for the risk-of-poverty-or-social-exclusion rate masks considerable differences between Member States, whose national rates ranged from 12.5 % in Czechia to 32.8 % in Bulgaria in 2019. In addition, there can be striking differences in the sub-indicators of different countries, showing that good performance in one indicator does not necessarily go hand in hand with a similar performance in another one. Romania, for example, had the highest share of income poverty after social transfers and one of the highest shares of severely materially deprived people in 2019, while at the same time its share of very low work intensity was within the bottom third of countries. Denmark and Finland are other examples with striking differences with regard to the three sub-indicators. Both countries were among the best performers for severe material deprivation and income poverty after social transfers but had a relatively high share of very low work intensity, being within the upper third of countries. These examples show that the drivers behind the Member States’ at-risk-of-poverty-or-social-exclusion rates can be quite heterogeneous, depending on the national context.
Children and young people are particularly affected by poverty and social exclusion
Analysing the risk of poverty or social exclusion by age group reveals that young people aged 20 to 24 are most affected by this situation. In 2019, 27.7 % of young people in this age group were at risk of poverty or social exclusion, which is 6.8 percentage points higher than the total EU rate of 20.9 %. Children aged 0 to 17 were also more affected than the overall EU population, with a rate of 22.2 %. In line with the total EU trend, the poverty or social exclusion rates for both groups have decreased since 2014 .
It is obvious that children’s risk of poverty or social exclusion is largely determined by the situation of their parents. In particular, the educational attainment of parents is a major factor: in 2019, 59.6 % of children aged 0 to 17 whose parents had at most lower secondary education were at risk of poverty or social exclusion, with very young children aged 0 to 6 being most affected, with a rate of 61.8 %. Children (aged 0 to 17) with more highly educated parents fared significantly better, with 25.5 % of children whose parents had a mid-level education and 8.9 % of children with highly educated parents at risk . Similarly, single-parent households with one or more dependent children had a much higher at-risk rate (40.0 % in 2019) than other household types .
Poverty is more likely to affect people that are unemployed, migrants, disabled or poorly educated
Identifying situations that can make people more vulnerable of being at the risk of poverty and social exclusion is important for creating sound policies that prevent and fight poverty. Figure 5 shows which sub-groups of people were most at risk of poverty or social exclusion in 2019. It can be seen that, in addition to the case of children and young people discussed in the previous section, unemployment, migration, disability and low education levels were also key risk factors. Nearly half (45.3 %) of non-EU citizens living in the EU were at risk of poverty and social exclusion, far more than EU home-country nationals (19.6 %) . The situation was quite similar when looking at country of birth, with 38.0 % of adults born in non-EU countries being in that situation, compared with only 19.3 % of those born in the reporting EU countries . Moreover, about one-third of people with severe disabilities (34.7 %) or low education levels (32.8 %) were at risk of poverty or social exclusion. Further vulnerable groups included people living in rural areas (22.4 %) and women (21.8 %). Not surprisingly, the group most at risk of poverty or social exclusion were unemployed people, of which almost two-thirds (65.3 %) were at risk .
Having a job is not a guarantee against poverty
Poverty can also affect employed people. The share of people unable to escape the risk of poverty despite being employed, the so-called working poor, increased almost continuously from 2010 to 2016 before falling again. In 2019, the in-work poverty rate was 9.0 %, a decline of 0.6 percentage points since 2014. However, rates varied considerably across the EU in 2019, with the lowest recorded in Finland (2.9 %) and the highest in Romania (15.7 %) and Spain (12.7 %).
The likelihood of a person becoming working poor varies according to their type of work and education level. Low-skilled workers and people who work part-time or on temporary contracts are generally the most affected .
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, keep their home adequately warm or receive medical treatment when needed.
Poor people often live in 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 an address is a precondition to getting a job or even identification documents. In addition, the costs of housing determine what is left of a household’s budget for other expenses, such as for education and culture, or even food. 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 12.7 % of the EU population in 2019. This was a 2.9 percentage point improvement compared with 2014. Among people living in income poverty, 19.8 % were affected by a leaking roof, damp walls, floors or foundation, or rot in window frames or floors in 2019, which was a 5.0 percentage point improvement compared with 2014 .
Living conditions have also improved in terms of basic sanitary facilities. In 2019, 1.6 % of the overall EU population lived in a house or apartment without a bath, shower or indoor flushing toilet, which was a 0.7 percentage point improvement since 2014. However, 5.7 % of people living below the income poverty threshold were still exposed to these housing deficiencies in 2019 .
Another important aspect when considering adequate housing is the ability to keep one’s home warm . Energy poverty will be a particularly important issue in the transition to a carbon-neutral society, during which energy prices are expected to increase . In 2019, 6.9 % of the overall EU population were unable to keep their home adequately warm, which is an improvement of 3.5 percentage points compared with 2014. Among people affected by income poverty in 2019, the rate was 18.2 %, which is a 5.7 percentage point improvement compared with 2014.
Furthermore, many EU citizens also share a dwelling with more people than there is space for and 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 2019, 17.1 % of the EU population lived in an overcrowded household, which is 1.0 percentage points less than in 2014. At 29.1 %, the incidence of overcrowding was considerably higher for people with an income below the poverty threshold .
People who self-report unmet needs for medical care most commonly cite costs as the reason
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 2019, 1.7 % of the EU population aged 16 and above reported unmet need for medical care, an improvement of 2.2 percentage points compared with 2014. Cost was the main reason given for impeded access to health care services, indicated by 0.9 % of the EU population. People with lower incomes face a much higher share of unmet needs for medical care. While only 0.1 % of the richest 20 % of the population reported unmet care needs due to financial constraints, 2.2 % of people in the poorest quintile reported that this was the case .
Poverty harms people’s lives and hampers social cohesion and economic growth. It limits people’s opportunities to achieve their full potential, actively participate in society and gain access to quality services. It is usually associated with poor health, low salaries, unemployment and low educational outcomes, which can be both drivers and impacts of poverty. Poverty is a multidimensional phenomenon and has a tendency to persist over time and to be transmitted across generations. This means that children born into poverty bear a higher risk of poverty in adult life than the average population. Coordinated policy interventions — such as effective income redistribution, education, health, active labour market inclusion and access to high quality, integrated social services — can prevent long-term loss of economic productivity from whole groups of society and encourage inclusive and sustainable growth. Poverty and social exclusion can take on various forms, including, but not limited to, income poverty (including in-work poverty), material deprivation and very low work intensity. The European Pillar of Social Rights is key to addressing poverty and social exclusion in the European Union. It expresses principles and rights essential for fair and well-functioning labour markets and welfare systems in 21st century Europe . While many of the Pillar’s 20 principles are relevant for poverty, its third chapter is dedicated to social inclusion and social protection, support to children, minimum income benefits and access to essential services.
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 on progress towards the SDGS in an EU context — 2021 edition’.
Further reading on poverty
- European Commission (2020), Employment and Social Developments in Europe, Annual Review 2020, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.
- European Commission (2021), Joint Employment Report 2021, Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, Brussels.
- European Commission (2017), European Semester Thematic Factsheet, Social Inclusion.
- European Parliament (2019), Factsheet, The fight against poverty, social exclusion and discrimination.
- European Union (2020), Social Protection Committee Annual Report 2020, 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 (2020), The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2020, United Nations Publications, New York.
- European Commission (2019), Employment and Social Developments in Europe 2019, Luxembourg.
- The data for ‘very low work intensity’ mentioned here refer to the population aged less than 60 as denominator (in accordance with the official definition of the indicator).
- 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.
- Source: Eurostat (online data code: (ilc_li10)).
- Source: Eurostat (online data code: (tespm050)).
- Source: Eurostat (online data code: (ilc_peps01)).
- Source: Eurostat (online data code: (ilc_peps60)).
- Source: Eurostat (online data code: (ilc_peps03)).
- Source: Eurostat (online data code: (ilc_peps05)).
- Source: Eurostat (online data code: (ilc_peps06)).
- Further information on vulnerable groups particularly at risk of poverty or social exclusion can be found in: Eurostat (2018), Living condition in Europe, 2018 edition, Luxembourg.
- European Commission (2020), Joint Employment Report 2021, Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, Brussels. The data in this report refer to the EU including the UK.
- 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.
- Source: Eurostat (online data code: (ilc_mdho01)).
- Source: Eurostat (online data code: (ilc_mdho05)).
- See also European Commission (2020), Commission Recommendation of 14.10.2020 on energy poverty, SWD(2020) 960 final, Brussels. The European Commission proposes the inability to keep one’s home adequately warm as one of the main indicators to measure energy poverty.
- European Commission (2020), Employment and Social Developments in Europe, Annual Review 2020, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, p. 108.
- A household is considered overcrowded if 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).
- Source: Eurostat (online data code: (ilc_lvho05a)).
- Source: Eurostat (online data code: (hlth_silc_08)).
- The European Parliament, the Council and the Commission (2017), European Pillar of Social Rights, booklet.