EU poverty targets ‘largely missed’ as UN expert criticises ‘defeat for social rights’

2 Feb 21

The European Union must rethink its strategy for getting people out of poverty after failing to meet its own targets during the past decade, a United Nations official has said following a visit to the bloc’s institutions.

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A map of Europe. Image © istock

Olivier De Schutter, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, found there were 11.3 million fewer people in poverty in 2019 than in 2010.

“While the EU has made recent progress in the eradication of poverty, it should not fall into complacency,” said De Schutter.

“Its own commitment to lift 20 million people out of poverty by 2020 was largely missed.

“Since the EU has experienced steady economic and employment growth until very recently, the only explanation for this failure is that the benefits have not been evenly distributed. This is a defeat for social rights.”

One in five people – 21.1% of the population – was at risk of poverty or social exclusion in 2019, including 19.4 million children.

Women are disproportionately represented in these figures, as are single-parent families.

Although most poverty-reducing policies are administered by the member states’ governments, De Schutter said the EU has played a big part in this failure.

“The EU can play an important role in galvanising member states’ anti-poverty efforts, notably through the yearly recommendations it issues,” he said.

“But instead of prioritising investments in healthcare, education and social protection, these recommendations have often imposed budgetary cuts in the name of cost-efficiency.

“Since 2009, member states have only decreased their investments in the areas critical for poverty reduction.”

Following his visit to institutions, which included the European Commission, the Council of the EU, the European Parliament and the European Central Bank, as well as talks with representatives from several EU countries, De Schutte said he was “impressed by the dedication” of the people he met.

“But goodwill is not enough,” he explained.

“If Europe wants to lead the way towards inclusive societies, it needs a bold EU-wide anti-poverty strategy that commits to reducing poverty by 50% equally across member states by 2030.”

He added that the crisis caused by Covid-19 is an opportunity “for Europe to reinvent itself” around social justice, with minimum income schemes and a ‘child guarantee’ – a longstanding request by the European Parliament for free healthcare, education and childcare, decent housing and adequate nutrition for all children.

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