Many European families still at risk of poverty, despite economic growth
Despite a return to economic growth, lone-parent families and large families with three or more dependent children face significant difficulties throughout Europe. In some countries more than eight out of ten lone-parent families are at risk of poverty or social exclusion. There are also large disparities between Member States, with families in some countries significantly more likely to have difficulty in making ends meet than others. This is according to the new report ‘Families in the economic crisis: Changes in policy measures in the EU’ which looks at the situation of families in Europe after the economic crisis, with an in-depth policy analysis of 10 Member States.
The report highlights that there are 4.8 million more EU citizens living in poverty than in 2008, with families facing particular difficulties. Lone parents and large families are more likely to be at risk of poverty or social exclusion, or to have difficulties in making ends meet. However, there is a large divergence between Member States, due in part to different national level family policies as well as overall economic performance. The report found large disparities between the Nordic countries and newer EU Member States. For example, in 2012 a large Bulgarian family was more than 13 times more likely to have difficulty making ends meet than a large Finnish family.
The report highlights increasing evidence of a shift towards more means-tested support in relation to family benefits in Europe, and a reduction in universal support. This may create new groups of disadvantaged families who, before the crisis, had access to universal support measures. A combination of sufficient universal support for families, as well as means-tested support, is required in order to effectively assist struggling families. The report also highlights that changes to family policies since 2010 are largely the result of a range of conflicting issues; difficulty in equating the evolution of family needs with greater demands for cuts in public spending; and the need for equitable distribution of limited resources. This means family policies often lack a coherent and integrated policy framework, and are increasingly developed in reaction to specific emergencies and political inputs, rather than through coordinated and structural reforms.
The effectiveness of targeted measures aimed towards families is also often constrained by a narrow definition of what constitutes a family or a lone-parent family, and does not take into account changes in the make-up of families, such as ’blended’ families after divorce and re-marriage. The combination of a narrow definition of what constitutes a family and a shift towards more means-tested support has meant that families have lost out on vital support in some Member States.
Finally, the report emphasises that having a job is not the only answer for families at risk of poverty. Measures such as providing additional childcare support, or providing subsidised public transport can have a large positive impact and help to combat social exclusion. In particular, providing adequate, high-quality childcare that is not cost-prohibitive is a major factor in combating poverty and social exclusion and improving the quality of life for families throughout Europe.
- Download the ‘Families in the economic crisis: Changes in policy measures in the EU’ report here: http://bit.ly/CrisisFamilies
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