Statistical Office of the European Communities Eurostat this week presented alarming figures on poverty and social exclusion: in 2011, 27 % of children under 18 in the 27 Member States were either at risk of poverty, had to suffer significant material deprivation and/or lived in households with low levels of employment. In Austria, this already affects every fifth child, whereby here too, the risk of children living in poverty is higher than that of the overall population. However, this week the focus on poverty was also prevailing on a different level: on behalf of the European Commission, the Commissioners Andris Piebalgs (Development) and Janez Potočnik (Environment) brought together approaches and ideas from the United Nations Millennium Development Goals and the Rio+20 Conference 2012. For the first time, poverty eradication and sustainable development shall be combined. These proposals by the Commission for the future development agenda shall help to achieve a “Decent Life for All” by 2030 worldwide.
The question regarding the causes and effects of poverty are as controversial as measuring them. According to Eurostat, people are at risk of poverty and social exclusion, if at least one of the three following conditions applies to them: living in a household with less than 60 % of the national median equivalent income (= at risk of poverty); living under significant material deprivation (for example without adequate heating or without a washing machine) and/or living in a household, where less than 20 % of the possible employment potential is exhausted. The data of this current evaluation concerning child poverty is based on the representative EU-SILC survey of European households, which forms the EU’s key source of reference for statistics on income distribution, poverty and living conditions.

Every fourth child in Europe affected by poverty and social exclusion

Compared to adults and elderly people, in 2011, children under 18 represented the group, which was most at risk of poverty and social exclusion (27 %) in Europe. Overall, 119.6 million people resp. 24.2 % of the population in the EU27 were affected. In the majority of Member States, the group most probably suffering from poverty and exclusion are the children. This also applies to Austria: 19.2 % of children, 16.2 % of adults and 17.1 % of the elderly (over 65) were at risk in 2011. Even though, compared to 2008, the risk of poverty for children has fallen slightly, nevertheless, compared to the northern European countries with their social democratic welfare state systems (16 % among other in Sweden and Finland) Austria still has a lot of catching up to do.

The parents’ level of education – and thereby also the social stratification – and a possible migration background are key influences on the poverty risk of children: if we look at the monetary poverty risk of children alone, i.e. the first condition mentioned above, we see that EU-wide, almost 50 % of children, whose parents have a low standard of education, are affected. In comparison, 22.4 % of children with parents who have a medium and 7.5 % of children with parents who have a high level of education are affected by monetary poverty. In Austria, the statistics for 2011 are similarly clear: 42.2 % of children with parents having a low, 15.5 % of children with parents having a medium and 6.1 % of children with parents having a high level of education are affected by the risk of monetary poverty. What is striking, is the breakdown according to migration background in Austria: 28 % of children, of whom at least one parent was born outside Austria, are affected by monetary poverty – in contrast to 8.4 % of children, where both parents were born in Austria. Whether a child has a migration background or not, influences child poverty in Austria much more than in other comparable EU countries.

Poverty eradication und sustainable development worldwide: EU Commission presents basis for discussion

Independent of the presentation of the statistics on child poverty, poverty and the fight against it was a key issue of the Commission this week. The EU Commissioners for Environment and Development jointly presented a key issue document on removing poverty and creating a sustainable future. Under the heading “A Decent Life for All”, discussion and starting points from the area of environmental protection with economic development resp. poverty eradication shall be brought together for the first time. Removing poverty and creating a sustainable basis for wealth and wellbeing is considered the most urgent task worldwide, so the message by the Commission to other European institutions. The paper, which for the time being is not followed by legislative initiatives, shall serve as a basis for discussion, in order to find over the coming months a common European approach in respect of a worldwide development policy. The background is a special event of the UN taking place in autumn 2013, which shall assess the efforts in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and put into motion an exchange of ideas. Target is the global elaboration of an overarching framework for the period after 2015, which shall include the results of the Rio+20 Conference last year towards an inclusive green economy as well as the experiences made implementing the MDGs. Whilst most of the time, environment and development are negotiated separately at UN level, the Commission uses this Communication to present outlines of an integrative approach, which emphasises the relationship between poverty eradication and ecological sustainability. The future “overarching framework needs to act as a catalyst for good governance, transparency, social cohesion and the empowerment of women, in all countries and internationally, all of which are essential for sustainable development and the eradication of poverty“”. The most important five issues for the Commission shall be: basic living standards as a basic requirement for a decent life; drivers for inclusive and sustainable growth; sustainable management of natural resources; equality, equity and justice as well as peace and security. The final responsibility for the implementation of this, still open framework, lies with the national governments. The goal would be to ensure A Decent Life for All by 2030.

It remains to be seen, which consequences this argumentative coupling of environment and poverty eradication will have, which common European position will in the end be formulated for the UN Conference and – what is most important – which concrete policies, based on this, will be developed and force for special issues. Not least, the current statistics on child poverty in Europe show how necessary a qualitative improvement of social conditions is.


Eurostat press release on child poverty

Commission Communication: “A Decent Life for All”