Rise in exposure to poverty and social exclusion in the EU

Photo of young teenager not in employment, education or training

The number of people in the EU28 living in poverty or social exclusion in 2013 was up by 4.8 million, compared with 2008 – a total of 122.6 million or almost 1 in 4 Europeans.

The EU Social Protection Committee’s (SPC) annual report for 2015, Social Europe – Aiming for inclusive growth, provides an analysis of recent trends in the social situation in the European Union and finds that in some Member States the situation has deteriorated, particularly for young people.

Despite quite mixed trends compared with previous years, about a third of Member States still saw significant rises in poverty and social exclusion in 2013. Moreover, the rate of those at risk of poverty or social exclusion has stagnated at a high level. These findings show the EU is struggling to make progress towards its target of lifting at least 20 million people out of poverty and social exclusion by 2020.

Eurofound contributed extensively to the section on ‘Social protection and youth exclusion in the EU’, which draws on its research on the social situation of young people, young people not in employment, education or training (NEETs), and quality of life of young people.

Social protection and youth exclusion

According to the SPC report, the impact of the crisis on young people has weakened their social situation and increased their vulnerability. For instance, the ‘at risk of poverty’ rate is higher among young people than any other age group.

Eurofound’s research on the social situation of young people shows that unemployed and inactive young people are more likely than others to feel socially excluded, to feel lonely, to face a lack of social support, and to have lower levels of mental well-being. They are also less likely to trust institutions now than they did in 2007.

Quoting Eurofound’s study on NEETs, young people with low levels of education are three times more likely to be NEET than those with tertiary education. Young people with an immigration background are 70% more likely to become NEET than nationals. And young people suffering from some kind of disability or health issue are 40% more likely to be NEET than those in good health.


Unemployment and poverty have long-term consequences for young people, according to Eurofound findings. Those with only lower secondary education, in particular, might have to face frequent spells of unemployment due to lack of skills and work experience and also limited chances to train on the job. Moreover, long-term unemployment and detachment from the labour market, education and training increase the risk of poverty and social exclusion in later life.

Eurofound’s Third European Quality of Life Survey shows that in 2011 the lowest levels of perceived social exclusion were found among young people in Denmark, Greece, Austria and Finland and the highest in Cyprus, Greece, Bulgaria and Romania.

The SPC report also draws on Eurofound’s forthcoming study on social inclusion of young people, which finds that participating in lifelong non-formal learning activities can be an indicator of inclusion. Around 8.8% of young people aged 15–29 reported taking part is such learning activities in 2012. But vast country differences exist. While around a third of young people took part in non-formal learning activities in Denmark (33.1%) and Sweden (28.6%), less than 1% reported taking part in these activities in Romania and Bulgaria.

Eurofound’s report Social inclusion of young people in Europe is due to be published later this year.

Further reading

Eurofound (2014), Social situation of young people in Europe – available in 7 languages

Eurofound (2014), Access to healthcare in times of crisis

Eurofound (2013): NEETs - Young people not in employment, education or training: Characteristics, costs and policy responses in Europe 

Eurofound (2012), Third European Quality of Life Survey - Quality of life in Europe: Impacts of the crisis

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