The most recent data available (2015) show that 23,7% of the EU population, that is about 118,7 million people, are at risk of poverty or social exclusion.

The picture of poverty across the EU

The most recent data available (2015) show that 23,7% of the EU population, that is about 118,7 million people, are at risk of poverty or social exclusion. 17,3% of the population in the EU is at risk of relative income poverty, 8,2% is severely materially deprived, and 10,5% is living in households with very low work intensity. (Source: Eurostat December 2016)

However there is a wide difference between Member States: for instance, between 11% and 17% of the population are at risk of poverty or social exclusion in Iceland, Norway, Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Sweden and Finland, whereas 37% or over are at risk in Bulgaria and Romania. (Source: Eurostat – SILC Database March 2017)


Children (0-17) have a particularly high rate of poverty or social exclusion at 26,9%. One-parent households and those with dependent children have the highest poverty risk. For single parents with dependent children the risk of poverty is 47,8%. (Source Eurostat November 2016)

The risk is also particularly high among young people (16-24) at 30,9% . (Eurostat March 2017).

Women are globally more at risk of relative monetary poverty with a rate of 17,7%. (Source: Eurostat – SILC Database March 2017).

Of course, these figures do not include some of those in the most extreme situations such as some minority ethnic groups, especially the Roma, immigrants including undocumented migrants, the homeless, people living in or leaving institutions etc. Just to give an example, in 2015 40.2% of the non-EU-born population in the EU was assessed to be at risk of poverty or social exclusion (AROPE) compared with 21.7% of the native-born population (Source: Eurostat February 2017).


Focusing on severe material deprivation, overall at the EU-28 level, it has decreased by 0.8 percentage points (pp) between 2014-2015. The most notable rises was in Bulgaria (+1.1 pp) and the largest decrease in Latvia, Hungary, Poland, Malta, Estonia, Romania, the Check Republic, the UK and Portugal (even though some of these countries still account for the highest levels of severe material deprivation, 34.2% in Bulgaria and 24.6% in Romania). Overall at the EU level, single-person households with dependent children are the most severely materially-deprived (17.1%) followed by single-male households (11.3%) and households with two adults and three or more dependent children (10.5%). Source: Eurostat April 2016.


In most, but not all, Member States where poverty affects a large share of the population, it also tends to be more severe. The depth or severity of poverty (i.e. how far below the at-risk-of-poverty threshold the income of people at risk of poverty is) for the EU as a whole in 2015 was 24,8 %: this means that half of those living under the poverty line were at least 24,8 % below the relevant at-risk of poverty threshold. The depth of poverty ranges from as low as 13,2% in Finland to as high as 33,8% in Spain and 38,2% in Romania. In Greece, this rate jumped from 24.7% in 2008 to 30.6% in 2015, while in Slovakia it jumped from 18.1% in 2008 to 28,9% in 2015. Source: Eurostat – SILC Database March 2017.


The depth of poverty has worsened in most countries during the crisis: among people facing monetary poverty, more people have dropped to the bottom of the income distribution ladder since the beginning of the crisis.


Unemployment is a key factor in people being at risk of poverty.

In 2014, 47,2 % of people who were unemployed were at risk of poverty. Severe material deprivation among unemployed people is also higher than within the whole population. In 2014, 3.7 million people in the EU suffered both severe material deprivation and were living in a household with very low work intensity. (Source: Eurostat – SILC Database March 2017).

Thus, while a job is a key route out of poverty, not all jobs pay enough to actually lift someone out of poverty.

In 2015, 9,5% of the people in employment were living under the poverty threshold. In-work poverty significantly increased by 1.2% in EU-28 level between 2010 and 2015. 18.8% of workers were in poverty in Romania in 2015, 13.2% in Spain and 13.4 % in Greece. In general men are more affected by in-work poverty than women (10.2% for men and 8.7% for women).

Is the EU going to eradicate poverty?

The EU has set itself the objective to overcome poverty and make significant progress on the eradication of poverty since 2000. In 2010, the Heads of States and Governments committed themselves to reducing poverty and social exclusion by at least 20 million people. Is this going to happen? In 2014-2015, the Commission performed a mid-term review of Europe 2020. Overall, instead of meeting the goal, there has been a 1.6 million increase in the number of people at the risk of poverty and social exclusion since 2008. (Source: Eurostat 2016).


The 2015 overall figure for the percentage of people-at-risk-of-monetary poverty (17.3%) is higher than that from 2005 (16.5%) but in a context of decreasing household income this may hide increasing monetary poverty in reality. The AROPE indicator has not varied a lot since 2008 (23.7 %) but the crisis appears to have stopped the previous trend of slow continuous reduction. (Source: Eurostat – SILC Database March 2017).


It is very important to acknowledge that since the crisis the divergence between different parts of the EU is growing, with a new divide emerging between Southern and Eastern European countries where the social situation is deteriorating more severely than in Western and Northern countries. Countries with robust welfare systems have shown better resilience.

Austerity policies implemented although the EU have accelerated this social deterioration, through the limitations in wages and benefits and the cuts in services.


Whether poverty and social exclusion will be effectively combated over the next years will depend notably on the capacity of the EU and the Member States to acknowledge the negative impact of harsh austerity policy and to implement a balanced approach to crisis recovery likely to preserve human capital, human dignity and the European Social Model.