Poverty and Social Exclusion

Europe is one of the wealthiest regions in the world, with some EU Member States considered amongst the richest and safest countries on earth. Compared to the many less developed economies and fragile societies, life is good on the European continent. However, the 1.3 million Red Cross staff and volunteers delivering care and support to the most vulnerable people and communities in the EU often tell a different story.

Official Eurostat figures show that of the 500 million people living in the EU, a staggering 119 million are at risk of poverty and social exclusion. In some countries, 40% of the population is considered poor, while across the Union, millions make it through the day with severe material deprivation. In many European towns and cities – some of which are amongst the wealthiest on the planet – dedicated volunteers distribute meals and hot blankets, while offering a friendly face and competent advice to thousands of rough sleepers. They do this day in, day out. 365 days a year.

Poverty and social exclusion are among the gravest societal challenges that the EU currently faces. The recent economic and financial crisis has left millions of households with less income, security, care, and support. Many of the 28 EU countries have reduced public spending, imposing drastic cuts to welfare, services, and assistance, and leaving countless households with insufficient budget to get their families through the month. Increasingly, even families in which both parents have a job are confronted with in-work-poverty.

Fighting social exclusion

A large proportion of those living with poverty and social exclusion would not be able to compensate a lack of income with additional work, even if they wanted to. Children, pensioners, and people with diseases or disabilities may face a situation of complete dependency on others. Poverty is never ‘only’ about unemployment and a lack of income, we often see multiple, complex challenges, many of which derive from living with minimal comfort, support, and assistance for many years.

In many regions across the EU, National Red Cross Societies offer assistance to people living with poverty and social exclusion. Support is provided in different ways, depending on the specific needs of the person. Activities range from basic material assistance such as food, clothing and shelter, to advice and counselling regarding family, social, health or legal issues, as well as support in accessing services and employment, housing and social care. Quite often, it is a combination of different services.

“Poverty and social exclusion affect many people in our country. We have large numbers of beneficiaries asking for essential assistance. It is important to offer support according to individual needs, making sure it makes a difference to peoples’ lives.” Evelina Milusheva, Head of the Social Activities and Services Department at the Bulgarian Red Cross.

The Red Cross EU Office and poverty and social exclusion

The Red Cross EU Office closely follows trends and developments in EU social policies, with a focus on efforts to reduce poverty and promote social inclusion. We are particularly interested in policy initiatives and financial instruments that have a direct impact on the work of the Red Cross in local communities. For example, the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD), which supports civil society organisations to deliver basic material aid, food and social assistance to the most vulnerable people in the community, or the European Social Fund (ESF), which finances large-scale programmes, as well as small-scale projects promoting access to jobs for unemployed people, and providing training and support to people in work.

Further Reading

French Red Cross: Mobile teams assisting homeless people in France

Croatian Red Cross: Social Basket Initiative

Spanish Red Cross: Employment plan to access the labour market