Commissioner Flynn responds to income distribution and poverty figures

Padraig Flynn, European commissioner with responsibility for employment, industrial relations and social affairs, has expressed his concern over the most recent findings on poverty and income differentials published in May 1997 by Eurostat. He underlines the need for a dialogue on social exclusion with member states, social partners and civil society.

The findings of a Eurostat study entitled Statistics in focus: income distribution and poverty in the EU 12 - 1993, published on 14 May 1997, show that one out of six citizens and households in the 12 pre-1995 EU member states live below the "poverty threshold". In more than half of these countries, the figure was even higher - one in five. Even more alarmingly, over one-third of poor households were working. These findings are drawn from the first wave of statistics generated from the European Community Household Panel (ECHP). The ECHP consists of a sample of 60,500 households selected randomly in the 12 member states, using a harmonised questionnaire. This data does not allow for a comparison of social change over time, but does provide important information on the magnitude and dimensions of poverty and income disparity in the European Union in the early 1990s. The figures show that there are approximately 57 million socially excluded individuals in EU, a problem affecting both more and less affluent member states.

The study also allows an assessment of groups particularly at risk of poverty. These include in particular:

  • single-parent households;
  • families with three children or more;
  • unemployed individuals;
  • individuals on low incomes (the "working poor"); and
  • retired households

The statistics confirm one of the main findings of the Commission's report on economic and social cohesion published at the end of the 1996. While some member states are slowly catching up with the rest of the Union in economic terms, internal cohesion in most member states appears to be weakening.

Commenting on the findings of this study, Padraig Flynn said he was now convinced of the need to pursue a dialogue on poverty and social exclusion at Community level with member states, social partners and representatives of civil society.

The Commissioner stated that "economic growth and progress in the member states and the Union are a necessary condition but do not seem to be a sufficient condition for social cohesion". (Commission press release, 14 May 1997). He underlined his belief in the need for a strengthening of provisions on social exclusion and poverty in the forthcoming new Treaty.

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