One in four young people in EU at risk of poverty, study says
By Honor Mahony
Almost a quarter of the EU's population is at risk of poverty or social exclusion, according to statistics released Wednesday (8 February), with 13 member states recording a rise in the number of their citizens considered vulnerable.
The figures for 2010 show that 115 million Europeans, or 23.4 percent of the EU population, live in households with less than the poverty-threshold disposable income, in households where there is severe material deprivation (such as a lack of heating) or where the adults worked less than 20 percent of their total work potential.
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Bulgaria has the highest percentage of population (42%) falling into one or more of these categories, followed by Romania (41%), Latvia (38%), Lithuania (33%) and Hungary (30%).
While 13 of the 25 member states that provided information recorded a rise in the numbers affected when compared with 2009, Spain (23.4% to 25.5%) and Lithuania (29.5% to 33.4%) saw the greatest leap from one year to the next.
The lowest rates of poverty and social exclusion were recorded in the Czech Republic (14%), Sweden and the Netherlands (both 17%).
The deprivation figures were even higher among those under 17 years of age with 27 percent of youth across the EU falling below the threshold. In all, 20 countries recorded a higher rate of poverty and risk of social exclusion among young people than among the general population.
Romania's youth are the worst off in the EU where almost half of them (48.7%) are vulnerable. Young people in Bulgaria (44.6%) and Latvia (42%) fare little better - while Bulgaria also distinguishes itself by having by far the highest percentage of elderly people - 55.9 percent - considered deprived.
The poverty statistics come atop of unemployment statistics published last week recording a record high jobless rate in the EU, with some 23 million people without work.
Joblessness and poverty has been pushed up the political agenda in the EU with analysts increasingly questioning the merits of the austerity drive in the eurozone as governments seek to rein in spending - with the public sector the first in line to be hit.
At a summit at the end of January, EU leaders made a point of devoting debate and the subsequent summit conclusions to plans for economic growth - but there were few spending commitments while the EU commission itself is limited by the fact that employment is largely a member state power.
Meanwhile, the current harsh winter temperatures have thrown a spotlight on Europe's homeless and socially vulnerable people, as hundreds have died due to the cold across the continent.
The media in Belgium, home to the EU's institutions, has been reporting for several days on the need get people off the streets as temperatures have at times plunged to around minus 20. But the reporting has also highlighted the plight of people who have fallen into arrears on rent, are living in poorly-insulated apartments and are unable to pay for nutritious food or afford heating bills.
An appeal in response to the cold called Winter2012, run by Belgian broadcaster RTBF, since the beginning of the week has seen around 5,000 calls lodged.
Some 75 percent have been by people offering to help in the form of bedclothes, shelter and heating. The rest are calls by people looking for aid. Of these, half wanted heating, 15 percent bedclothes, 10 percent lodging and 5 percent voluntary assistance.