Poverty is the bane of any society. Poor do not have money to buy food and clothes, heat their homes and find safe shelter. Extreme poverty occurs in several parts of the world and causative factors differ in developed and developing nations. While having a single meal per day could be measure in countries like India, in the western countries having money to buy gifts is a measure to poverty. The World Bank estimates that the world has 1,215 million people living on less than per $1.25 per day (The World Bank, 2010). European Union though considered wealthy region surprisingly has 120 million poor (European Commission, 2011). In the EU, people falling below 60% of median income are said to be “at risk of poverty”. Persons whose annual income is below the national average are considered poor. Within EU's member nations, the percentage at risk to poverty varies considerably. In addition, poverty in the member nations is more of social disparity rather than extreme poverty.
Poverty is classified as absolute poverty and relative poverty. Absolute poverty is that level where buying food, clothes, have warm shelter are deprived. Relative poverty is defined by lack of resources to improve living conditions, low wage jobs with few benefits and low level of education. Most of the EU nations have fair share of relative poverty populations. Relatively poor may be living in unsafe, crime prone neighborhoods, do not have means to reach medical or emergency services, lack information and unable to participate in any recreational activities. What is interesting is that the richest people are also living in EU nations while deprived percentages are increasing. The poor-rich divide is wider in EU than elsewhere in the world.
Twenty-eight countries constitute European Union with six more on the road to membership. Within the existing nations 20% people are at-risk-of poverty in Lithuania, Poland, Ireland, Greece, Spain and Portugal (European Anti-poverty Network, 2013). Poverty rates have increased after new, poorer countries joined into the Union. After the global financial crisis in 2008 unemployment rate doubled in Spain, Ireland and Baltic countries. International bailouts given by IMF have been counterproductive in many countries. Austerity measures, higher taxes, cutting down on internal infrastructure funding were forced on the citizens. Some countries even contemplated going out of the European Union, unable to meet the demands of international agreement.
Northern countries of EU are highly industrialized. However, the countries, which formed after the split of Soviet Union, face adverse rural poverty. Countries in central and eastern Europe are still going through difficult social, political, economic struggles. Republic of Moldova is the poorest nation of EU. In these countries, agriculture forms 30% of the GDP while in northern parts its contribution is only 10% (Rural Poverty portal, World Bank, 2009). Internal conflict between these newly formed nations and migrating rural population are also part of the problem. Economic governance of EU is difficult because of such regional disparities.
Social disparity in UK and North Ireland are characterized by three factors – insufficient income, employment and food (Food and Agriculture Organization of United Nations, 2009). People have low paying jobs, hence low income and lesser benefits. Low paying jobs are direct result low levels of education. Major causes of such poverty are lack of affordable basic foods, migration and population decline, social exclusion and unemployment. This category is also termed as in-work poverty (Dorothee Spannagel, 2013). In-work poverty also has another component- household level. Households with one working adult, more dependent, non-earning adults, sick or young children are at higher risk to poverty and continuing to remain so. This relative measure does not take into account the age of the person or how many years they have been below the average. Poverty levels in UK have been steadily increasing because poverty alleviation measures have targeted improvement in number of jobs rather than quality of the jobs. Poverty and Social Exclusion in the UK research project predicts that there will be worsening of benefit levels in jobs, real wage declines and living standards squeezed in the nearby future (Poverty and Social Exclusion, 2013).
Ireland was declared an independent republic from UK in 1922. Rebellion and civil war with North Ireland have rendered it poor for many years. After settlements and treaties for peace, Ireland emerged economically stable during the 21st century. In the recent decade, Ireland faced the global economic crisis, bringing the unemployment rate to 13.3% (Central Statistics Office, 2013). Economic and Social Research Institute states that ‘while the Irish social welfare system has become more efficient over time at lifting people in jobless households above the national financial poverty threshold, there has been essentially no improvement in their living standards or levels of financial stress’ (Economic and Social Research Institute, 2012). Living standards like heating the house, repairing for winters, buying new clothes or taking a vacation are in lacking. This report recognizes household joblessness as main factor for poverty in Ireland. Children and adults with disability constitute nearly half of living in the jobless households. Social welfare payments are the only thing, which keep a huge number of Irish people out of poverty. Single women leading families, children under poverty are matters of major concern.
There are few major challenges for measuring poverty in UK and Ireland. Poverty is a multi dimensional variable where data collected is singular and analysis has to be multi faceted. Some of its bi-variables like loss of a loved one due to inaccessible health care, childcare costs cannot be measured in quantifiable terms. European Commission realized the variety of disparities with the newly joined nations, where incomes are very low and significant minorities went unaccounted. There is a need to find methods, which equalize the regional differences in data and economies.
Historically the strife between republic of Ireland and North Ireland has rendered both the regions in bad shape. Absolute poverty measuring mechanism is long contentious because it is not in clinical numbers. The relative living standards in comparison to other nations within EU have progressively deteriorated. There are scores of people living in damp homes, unable to improve housing or living standards, work in part time jobs, single parent sometimes with elderly and children. Measures to improve living standards have to have two-pronged approach- immediate reach and long term plans. Some of the long-term solutions for improving joblessness are improving skill set and education of low-income employed, continuation of benefits when people lose jobs, childcare and adult/sick care for working households and support for the disabled. Job protection from global economic sways also has to ensure. That can only be achieved if the countries maintain internal peace and improve funding mechanisms.
According to José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, Europe 2020, and the Union has set five ambitious objectives - on employment, innovation, education, social inclusion and climate/energy (Europa, 2013). Under social inclusion, European Commission aims to decrease 20 million people from at risk poverty. An agenda for new skills and jobs is also identified as prime target. After the financial crisis of 2008, it has been realized that all countries are, inter connected in micro and macro levels of economy and therefore have more chances of getting affected. Some of the objectives of EU 2020 are strengthening of the individual member state economies and identifying unique measures for each.
Poverty as a social malice has bothered many a nation. Governments traditionally gave money to the poor in the form of incentives, subsidies, welfare funds or food stamps. However, in this modern era in the European Union' teaching the man to fish instead of donating a fish' seems to be a measure, which could lead to positive results. Understanding regional differences and accommodating them into the main stream would ensure better data assimilation. 'Remembering the poorest of the poor man' when faced with a choice between an expensive shirt or watch ( said by Mahatma Gandhi) will help in reducing the rich-poor divide.
World Bank, 2010, Poverty and Equity Data (online), Available at http://povertydata.worldbank.org/poverty/home/ (Accessed 10-0-2013)
European Commission, 2011, Poverty and Social Exclusion (online), Available at http://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=751, (Accessed on 10-02-2013)
European Anti-poverty Network, Poverty and Inequality in the European Union (online). Available at http://www.poverty.org.uk/summary/eapn.shtml reproduced from European Anti-poverty Network with permission, (Accessed on 10-02-2013)
Rural Poverty portal, Source: IFAD, Rural Poverty in Europe (online). Available at http://www.ruralpovertyportal.org/region/home/tags/europe (Accessed on 09-30-2013)
Food and Agriculture Organization of United nations, 2009, Poverty in Europe (online), Available at http://www.fao.org/docs/eims/upload/263500/Poverty%20in%20Europe1.pdf (Accessed on 09-29-13)
Dorothee Spannagel, 2013, In-work Poverty in Europe, Extent, Structure, Causal mechanisms (online) Available at http://cope-research.eu/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/In-work_Poverty_in_Europe.pdf (Accessed on 09-28-2013)
Poverty and Social Exclusion, 2013, Impoverishment of UK, PSE UK first results: Living Standards (online) Available at http://poverty.ac.uk/sites/default/files/attachments/The_Impoverishment_of_the_UK_PSE_UK_first_results_summary_report_March_28.pdf (Accessed on 09-27-2013)
Central Statistics Office, September 2013, Live Register, September 2013 (online) Available at http://www.cso.ie/en/media/csoie/releasespublications/documents/latestheadlinefigures/lreg_sep2013.pdf (accessed on 09-27-2013)
Economic and Social Research Institute, Nov 12, 2012, Work and Poverty in Ireland (online) Available at http://www.esri.ie/news_events/latest_press_releases/work-and-poverty-in-irela/ (Accessed on 09-29-2013)
European Commission, 2013, Europe 2020 (online), Available at http://ec.europa.eu/europe2020/index_en.htm. Accessed on 09-27-2013