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Europe's poverty boom

Europe's poverty boom
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Poverty is not only shaking EU countries such as Greece, Spain and Portugal but also the euro zone’s biggest economies.

France’s Socialist prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault at a conference on Tuesday promised that Paris would spend some two and a half billion euros in a five-year poverty reduction plan.

This is aimed at the more than 8 million people who live on less than 60% of the average income in France.

At least 14 percent of its population fit that description, and the incidence is far higher in some areas.

The French poverty line is officially 964 euros for a single person per month. And this is the euro zone’s second-richest country, after Germany.

France will boost the minimum subsidy paid to jobless people to equal half the minimum wage of 1,100 euros.

Free health care access will be extended to half a million more people, added to today’s roughly four and a half million people.

Thousands more places will be made available at shelter for people with nowhere to live, and a household debt warning system will be developed.

In the euro zone’s third-largest economy, Italy, a map has been made public showing where the poor can get free meals and lodging in Rome. Its statistics agency’s latest findings show that more than 28% of Italians were already suffering close to the poverty line or below it in 2011. The average income for a person considered poor here is just over 700 euros per month.

Critics accuse outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti of mismanaging austerity policy. Growth is at 2.3 percent; unemployment is around 11 percent and household consumption has fallen by more than three percent – from efforts to halve the bloated national borrowing rate, from when Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi held office.

The climb in poverty trends is even evident in Germany, the leading euro zone economy, which is not applying austerity policies.

Its national statistics show that nearly 16 percent of Germans were living below the poverty line in 2011 – again, measured as 60 percent of the average wage, or 940 euros per month.

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