Poverty is a global problem affecting everyone even in the EU Countries
Causes of poverty and inequality
Some people imagine that in a rich region like the EU no one can be poor or if they are it must be the result of some personal failings or problems. However, this is not the case. The overall persistent high level of poverty in the EU suggest that poverty is primarily the consequence of the way society is organized and resources are allocated, whether these are financial or other resources such as access to housing, health and social services, education and other economic, social and cultural services. Indeed, the fact that there are very different levels of poverty in different Member States demonstrates clearly that different approaches to allocating resources and opportunities leads to different outcomes. The least unequal societies in Europe tend to have the lowest levels of poverty. This is primarily because these Governments chooses to give priority to ensuring adequate minimum income levels and ensuring good access to services, through the social protection system and through guaranteeing minimum wage levels. They are usually the most effective at redistributing wealth through the tax and other systems. This means that the decisions over how to eradicate poverty in the end are political choices about the kind of society we want.
In terms of individuals, some key factors are seen as making a person more at risk of being in poverty such as:
• unemployment or having a poor quality (i.e. low paid or precarious) job as this limits access to a decent income and cuts people off from social networks;
• low levels of education and skills because this limits people's ability to access decent jobs to develop themselves and participate fully in society;
• the size and type of family i.e. large families and lone parent families tend to be at greater risk of poverty because they have higher costs, lower incomes and more difficulty in gaining well paid employment;
• gender - women are generally at higher risk of poverty than men as they are less likely to be in paid employment, tend to have lower pensions, are more involved in unpaid caring responsibilities and when they are in work, are frequently paid less ;
• disability or ill-health because this limits ability to access employment and also leads to increased day to day costs;
• being a member of minority ethnic groups such as the Roma and immigrants/undocumented migrants as they suffer particularly from discrimination and racism and thus have less chance to access employment, often are forced to live in worse physical environments and have poorer access to essential services;
• living in a remote or very disadvantaged community where access to services is worse.
All these factors create additional barriers and difficulties, but should be seen within the overall structural context of how a particular country chooses to distribute wealth and tackle inequality.
The day-to-day struggle
This means that the reality of poverty in the EU is much more a day-to-day struggle to live and survive which can adversely affect your health and psychological well-being and put stress on your personal relationships.
Living in poverty can mean:
• becoming isolated from family and friends;
• lacking hope and feeling powerless and excluded with little control over the decisions that affect your day to day life;
• lacking information about the supports and services available to you;
• having problems in getting your basic needs met and accessing decent housing, health services and schools and life long learning opportunities;
• living in an unsafe neighbourhood with high levels of crime and violence and poor environmental conditions or in a remote and isolated rural area;
• going without very basic necessities because you may not be able to afford essential utilities like water, heat and electricity or to buy healthy food or new clothing or to use public transport;
• being unable to afford to buy medicines or visit the dentist;
• living from day to day with no savings or reserves for times of crisis such as losing a job or falling ill and thus falling into debt;
• being exploited and forced into illegal situations;
• experiencing racism and discrimination;
• being unable to participate in normal social and recreational life such as going to the pub or cinema or sports events or visiting friends or buying birthday presents for family members.
Overall, the reality of poverty in the EU is that it affects many aspects of people's lives and limits people's access to their fundamental rights. People affected often experience a range of different disadvantages which combine to reinforce each other and trap them in poverty. Poverty limits the opportunity for people to reach their full potential. For instance, children growing up in poverty are more likely to suffer poor health, do less well at school and become the next generation of adults at risk of unemployment and long-term poverty.
Views of those living in poverty
Lack of basic necessities
"I can afford only cheap food; fruit and vegetables to feed children is too expensive; fish is not affordable; healthy food is too expensive for me."
"The problem is not that we run out of money occasionally. The real problem is that we live our entire lives this way and our children grow up into this too."
"In Spain the apartments for tourists are empty during the calm periods. On the other side there are a lot of homeless who have no roof above their head. How can we explain those injustices to our children?"
"I cannot repair my broken TV."
"I have lost friends as I cannot participate in their activities; even to participate in self-help groups needs money and time; I'm short of money and time to participate in discussions."
"I cannot afford a daily paper; books, especially scientific literature is too expensive."
Bureaucracy and lack of information
"The system is too complicated, I don't know where to get what."
"I have slept in cardboard boxes. I had the choice to die on the street or to take back my life in my own hands. I went to social services with the question to help me to find a house. I was confronted with an enormous bureaucracy. I had to tell several times my story, each time again and it took years before I got a house."
"Every time I tell my life to civil servants I receive a lot of compassion, but rules prevent effective aid."
Lack of respect and lack of hope
"The way people look at you is humiliating. You are not considered a human being."
"Sometimes you get the feeling that animals are better protected because if you beat a dog you will be sentenced and maybe put into prison whereas if you beat someone I am not sure that you will always be punished for that. My feeling is that dogs are more respected and better treated than Gypsies."
"I don't see any progress since years. I have no future."
"I feel a little bit like Don Quixote. I am fighting against windmills here and there and there is no real hope anymore."
Lack of decent work
"I have no work and no housing. How can I form my life if I have no work?"
"I must admit that to you that I work illegally and this is not because I think it is good. I am fully aware of the consequences, but this is the only way for me to get a job."
Fear for one's children
"It is impossible for me to invite the friends of my children at home, because my home is so small. So my children at their turn are not invited any more. Thus they become also excluded. We are obliged to lead a hidden life."
"My children cannot participate in school holidays for skiing or a language week abroad. Training for lifelong learning is not affordable. I cannot afford cultural activities."
"My children will inherit my poverty."
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