Europe’s economic downturn seems to be behind us. Gone are the days of negative growth rates. Unemployment is still relatively high, but stabilising. So it may come as a surprise to discover that poverty is not declining. This means that close to one in four Europeans experience at least one or more of the following conditions: income poverty, severe material deprivation and/or social exclusion.
In 2015, more than a third of the population was at risk of poverty or social exclusion in three member states: Bulgaria (41.3%), Romania (37.4%) and Greece (35.7%). At the opposite end of the scale, the lowest shares of persons being at risk of poverty or social exclusion were recorded in the Czech Republic (14%) and Sweden (16%).
On average, children are more adversely affected than adults or elderly people with a whopping 27% living in poor households across Europe. Child poverty happens in rich countries too: France, Germany or the UK are not spared.
According to recent surveys, child poverty in the UK is at its highest level since 2010. Two thirds of these children are from working families, who make up Europe’s so-called working poor people who have jobs, but can’t make ends meet. A similar pattern emerges in Germany, one of the world’s strongest economies, which is also grappling with increasing poverty and inequality.
However, poverty and destitution are far worse if you move eastward or to the south of Europe.
In Spain, while the economy grew by 3.2% in 2016, close to one in three Spaniards live in poverty, getting by on roughly 8.000 euros or less per year. Here, again, it is children who are the worst affected. In the southern province of Andalusia, close to 40% of people live in poverty while child poverty reaches 44%.
The phenomenon is fuelling the debate about the rise of Europe’s so-called “gig economy” – a labour market characterised by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs – and whether this model is compatible not just with growth but also with workers’ well-being.
Why is poverty on the rise in Europe? Our reporters Valerie Gauriat and Hans von der Brelie travel to Spain and Germany to try to get some answers. And Insiders’ Sophie Claudet speaks to the OECD’s head of social policy, Monika Queisser, to find out more.