Employment, Social Affairs & Inclusion

Poverty and social exclusion


The fight against poverty and social exclusion is at the heart of the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. With more than 120 million people in the EU in 2008 at risk of poverty or social exclusion, EU leaders have pledged to bring at least 20 million people out of poverty and social exclusion by 2020.

Key challenges

The economies of EU countries are recovering, with improvements also benefiting the most vulnerable. In 2017, there were 4.4 million fewer people living at risk of poverty or social exclusion in the EU, compared to pre-crisis levels in 2008. This represents a decline of more than 10 million since this number peaked in 2012.

This is still above the target set out in the Europe 2020 strategy, but several indicators have improved, as shown by 2017 statistics:

  • 22.4% of the EU population are at risk of poverty or social exclusion – this includes 24.9% of all children in Europe, 23.3% of women, 18.2% of those over 65
  • 6.7% of all Europeans still live in severe material deprivation, though their number has significantly decreased
  • 17% of Europeans live on less than 60% of their country's median household income
  • 9.3% of Europeans live in households where no one has a job

However, EU citizens have not benefitted from the economic recovery equally.

  • On average, the richest 20% EU households earn five times more than the poorest 20% households
  • Fewer people live in jobless households, but their poverty level remains high or is increasing, reaching around 60% in the EU
  • The share of working poor is increasing in a number of Member States, reaching 9.6% in the EU
  • 30.1% of people with disabilities in the EU were at risk of poverty or social exclusion, compared to 20.9% of people without disabilities
  • Welfare systems in different EU countries are not equally effective. The best system reduced the risk of poverty by 57%, the least effective by 16% (the EU average is 34%)

Policy responses

The European Pillar of Social Rights covers 20 principles delivering new and more effective rights for EU citizens. It has 3 main key areas:

  • Equal opportunities and access to the labour market
  • Fair working conditions
  • Social protection and inclusion

It is a joint commitment among national governments, EU institutions and key stakeholders to fight poverty and social exclusion, building on the policy objectives set out in the active inclusion strategy and the Social Investment Package.

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