Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

EU efforts to combat poverty and social exclusion (2010)

Since the European Commission has designated 2010 to be the year in which special efforts shall be undertaken ‘to combat social exclusion and poverty', there is a need to understand how things work before assuming combat is the best method. Such a rhetorical term as 'combat' may be compatible with what is happening in Afghanistan and it may well serve the wish by the EU Commission to demonstrate together with the member states a political will exists within the European Union to take up a fight against widespread poverty, but it may distort on the other hand much more reality than clarifying what are the political options. This is especially the case when the very lack of work being paid at decent rate poses a much larger problem than is being currently acknowledged and for which stands the term 'under-employment'. Indeed, to find meaningful work being paid so that the person doing the job does not feel over exploited is more a cultural than just an economic challenge. Having said that, it indicates the very term 'work' and by extension 'paid work' is far more problematic than what theoretists and regulators of labour markets are prepared at this time to acknowledge and to discuss.

If poverty and social exclusion are primarily a cultural not an economic challenge, then it would be wrong to seek a 'fight' by means of focusing on tangible things linked to a functioning economy like housing, wages, qualifications, training etc. For even physical health depends upon cultural participation and therefore upon 'a cultural well being' i.e. being accepted by the others when seeking ways of working together under different sets of demands and pressures stemming from how this particular work is organized. And it does not pick up as of yet on how culture works and what this requires in turn. For example, there prevails a huge misunderstanding between those who criticize demand for only the best in the arts as 'elitism', when in fact 'excellence' in culture means real work needs to be done before a catalogue goes out to print. In an age of apparent instant feeding of information a year's work to bring about an excellent catalogue goes too often unrecognized. The long duration of work is due to the need to send texts back and forth for corrections and decisions in need to be taken before the lay-out of every page can be approved.

Also in a much larger sense when museums try to collect items as evidence of contributions to the life of a community, that means giving recognition not only to everyone in terms of what contributions they make daily to society, but also to the inherent potentials they have to become creative in a special field of human activity. For example, is it work or not if a mother tells her child beautiful stories so that the imagination of the child begins to sing in the opera later in life as an adult? Outside the normal structures of society that mental activity of the mother when telling a story to her child is not deemed to be work. It goes unrecognized and therefore cannot account as well for the experiences in need to be made before such imaginative stories can be told.

At the same time, no one working inside institutions upholding the system of paid work would dare to tell an imaginary story. The risk of touching upon the imagination is that it can take everyone away from the usual roles they play in the work process and open up them up to other possibilities of interaction. It would be confusing if that meant departing from staked out fields of competence and preturbing if more uncertainties rather than certainties would rule the situation. Equally opening up the possibilities of working together could go so far as including everyone the access to these highly paid posts or privileged positions within society. For any imaginative process has an ethical base and could make work subject to further going changes of the system based on privileged income distributions in order to bring about a more just society.

A just society cannot be allowed for the every economy on which this system of privileged people is based on works with producing as much scarcity as prime orientation is no longer basic human needs but much more superficial or artificial needs as the latter are expressions of an affluent, equally uneconomical way of living despite all scarcity. Overproduction and over abundance of certain things while at the same time others have no means to fulfill their needs is the direct outcome of here high paid managers, there the low paid or unemployed. This system works as Bataille pointed out on intentionally producing scarcity so that through waste in both directions - a lot of poor people but also a few very rich ones - the price can be set at a much higher level than what economists ever thought of when figuring out demand and supply under conditions of a free market.

Such is the fiction of the economy that only a cultural truth can make sense of what is going on. It is like the Polish journalist Kapuscinski who decided after he could no longer make sense of the situation he found at that time in Ethiopia, that instead of continuing to write as journalist he turned into a novelist in order to let his imagination go literally on a spin. By writing down what he could not understand, he made more sense as to what he observed around him. (see Ryszard Kapuscinski - Polish publication: 1978, first edition in German: 1995 - Koenig der Koenige. Frankfurt a. Main: Eichborn Verlag)

The real problem of picking any fight is that it will create only more fear on both sides, the policy makers and those still with some work, that the invisible enemy of unemployment will grow stronger as a result of failed economy policy measures. This is usually the case as these measures are applied without taking the cultural dimension into consideration.

Money can be made off many things especially if there is a huge gap between theory and practice, policy guidelines and implementation of EU programmes. How much more difficult that is in the cultural fields indicates that not everywhere building costs can be exaggerated while profits are made under the table. Also while policy makers would think about costs, artists speak about the need to make cultural investments when they enter new learning processes with the outcome anything but certain. There is, generally speaking, a lack of understanding of this need even though without cultural investments it is unthinkable to attain a sustainable future. That shows itself whenever there is an economic crisis, and that means usually a huge state deficit and unemployment. The very first cuts to be made are in the cultural fields. Theatres are closed and museums forced to reduce their operation costs while entire fields like art education in schools is neglected. Ignored is the fact that cultural investments allow for the creation of many more jobs under humane conditions. They are more often freer in human spirit because self imposed conditions e.g. a writer not registering himself as being unemployed as he would never consider himself to be without work even if he does not sell right away any of novels.

One reason for problems recurring in terms of binding power and what finally would make a standpoint taken up into a real commitment to do something about the problems and issues named, is a simple observation by someone invited to go to Brussels to attend a side meeting in the European Parliament and this in the knowledge that parallel the real decision makers will talk in quite different terms about the same issue but without this commitment springing from a real contact to the people who do live through these experiences being referred to. It says it all when the observation is made that

"I gather that this forum, as with the PGA, last year, is being held in parallel with some Intergovernmental Conference on the same issues but which ignore the human aspect of the issue.  While the Governmental delegates were discussing Migration and Development (remittances flying around the world are of the order of trillions of dollars), the PGA conference discussed Migration and Human Rights, etc., then reported to the Governmental Conference."

How then to shift the focus of the debate in order to take up this cultural challenge? Two basic challenges can be named right away:

1) how to off set this negative trend towards more people being unemployed and at risk to sink below lines of existential minimum is to be off-set at all levels even though they could create work by giving each other things to do and paying this work if not with money then in kind by giving cultural recognition to the work being done. The off-setting principle of collaborative learning would open up new ways of working together and set free energies by which to overcome regressive and self repressive tendencies which go together with people feeling as if they have no self value in the eyes of the other.

2) respond to challenges not only at face to face but at various levels since the complexity of society means also allowing over dominant powers to set premises which do not take into consideration the diverse dialogues people could start to consider their own possibilities of satisfying various needs, a personal home something else than a complex infrastructure like a metro system.

In all cases the challenges can be met in terms of experiences made in daily life and which can further knowledge being gathered about poverty.

The usual method is to look at poverty in terms of material criteria, but as a cultural challenge there is also the need to look beyond usual statistical measures. This means not merely taking up what are the experiences of those living in poverty, but also come to terms with another kind of poverty which exists in the 21st century, namely 'the poverty of experience'. Given countless wars and lack of human compassion, it can be said as well there is a lack of human experiences to make a difference in an otherwise unjust and tough world. To this latter meaning reference is being made when speaking about the 'poverty of experience'.

Interestingly enough when reviewing the indicators the European Commission lists as stumbling blocs for inclusion and hence giving reasons as to why people risk a fall back into or else never leaving poverty, all of them can be reclassified as a lack or indeed ‘poverty of experience’. It goes without saying people have to deal at their jobs with a complex range of issues all of which require a careful handling. This is especially so when it comes to a dispute with a person higher up in the ladder or even with the boss himself. A failure to resolve such a dispute so that both sides can see eye-to-eye, find some common ground and continue a collaborative work process rather than an over-dependency upon hierarchical structures, is never easy. If the employed negates only his or her experiences by subordinating everything to the one with more authority, it would spell the end of engagement and even may lead to self-exclusion.


Position of the EU Commission


Laszlo Andor, European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal opportunities speaking at the Conference in Pecs, Nov. 15, 2010 hinted at the turmoil due to the financial crisis. A great strain is put on the social fund. To develop a strategy based on 'smart growth' for the next ten years is not easy. Key aims are life long learning and reviving strategies to make labor more competitive while working towards sustainable development based on a green economy. Inclusion means increase in employment to 75% of those aged between 20 and 64, and to reduce those living close to risk falling into poverty by 20 millionen.

The strategy was arrived at by consultation with the EU member states. It is deemed to be enthusiatic but also realistic.

The Commission seeks to improve methods of measuring poverty and social inclusion. One top of these indicator has been the risk level to fall below 60% of the average income.

To implement this some flagship initiatives were launched among which one includes schools and informal learning while on a second level it involves university level, third improve mobility and fourth the enhance youth employment.

Youth employment strategies include education and training. At the same time life long learning opportunities have to be improved. Also the EU believes people will retire at a later or older age so that for these people things have to be provided.

All points named by the unemployment / employment agenda have to take these trends into consideration.

To create a European Platform for the Unemployed with the target to reduce the number of unemployed may be an option. Although social competence is a matter of the EU members, they may agree in near future that the EU Commission should and could assume a greater role in this domain.

The key financial instrument is the social fund (10% of the European budget). It has the aim to support European citizens. According to the Lisbon Treaty, it has to satisfy the European cohesion criterion (social and territorial cohesion go here together).

A certain truism exists even if quite banale: money alone cannot solve the social challenge posed by the unemployed, but equally without money nothing seems possible. This might be considered during 2011 having as its dominant theme 'volunteers', and which due to an ageing population has started to solicit already retired people into a whole range of volunteer work, including teaching mathematics at school and helping out in kindergartens. The problem that this development takes is that young people seeking paid jobs will be replaced by volunteers who no longer need to make a living as they have their pensions. While civic duties being performed by elderly people is a good thing. Nevertheless it needs to be balanced with the need for especially young people to find and to have paid jobs.

To bring about real change partnership and actions are needed.

Poverty and social exclusion


84 million people in the EU – or 16% of the population, and 19% of the children – are currently at risk of poverty, since they live on an income below 60% of the median household income of their own country.

17% of Europeans suffer from material deprivation, which means that their living conditions are severely affected by a lack of resources.

Social transfers reduce the risk of poverty by 38% on average in the EU, but this impact varies from less than 10% to nearly 60% across EU.

EU action has helped to create a consensus about the following key challenges:

Since 2000, the European Union has provided, through the open method of coordination, a framework for national strategy development as well as for policy coordination between EU countries on issues relating to poverty and social exclusion.



This coordinated action at European level is reflected in national action plans. It encourages EU countries to examine their policies critically, and highlights how some perform well in certain areas, spurring on others to perform better. It also creates a better basis for policy making by involving NGOs, social partners, local and regional authorities and those working with people in poverty.

The European Commission provides financial support to relevant activities undertaken by a wide range of stakeholders.

A specific issue is the Roma question as brought up by France. The Commissioner put together with Commissionier V. Reding a communique for the Roma to outline what actions need to be undertaken in this area. This helped to create a task force in order to examine the situation of the Roma. These efforts face really tough questions. They have to be upgraded. The question is complex and there is a need for cooperation.

On the official website of the EU Commission can be found as well the following outline of how policy makers at EU level and member states wish to tackle the problem:


Poverty across the generations


"Across Europe, whole families – children, parents and grandparents – find it hard to escape poverty as it seems it is passed on from one generation to another.

People born into poverty are more likely than others to be poor when they get older because their life chances were undermined at an early age. In turn, there is a strong chance that their children and grandchildren will also be poor.

According to the European Commission, children growing up in poverty and social exclusion are less likely than other children to do well in school, enjoy good health and stay out of trouble.

Once poor children have grown up, they may find it difficult to get work and struggle to find their place in society.

If their own children go on to have a poor education, then find it harder to get a good job, they too are much more likely to remain poor in adulthood.

What is more, low lifetime incomes provide a poor return for pensions, which contributes to the fact that around 17% of older men and 22% of older women are at risk of poverty.

Older people who live in poverty also tend to be more socially excluded than others as they do not have the means to go out and do things.

A stubborn problem

Poverty and social exclusion are hard to defeat and as a consequence, there appears to be a 'handing on' of these serious difficulties through the generations.

Breaking what looks like a cycle is a major challenge for policy-makers because it impacts on so many areas including employment, education, social mobility, health and long-term care, family life and housing. The recent economic crisis and subsequent tightening of public finances have further worsened the situation. .

Another dimensions which adds to the seriousness of the problem is that more and more older people – many of whom live on small pensions – are having to help out their own children and grandchildren if and when the latter lose their jobs.

Problems also occur in reverse, as younger people help out parents who have lost their jobs or who are struggling to make ends meet on small pensions.

The situation is putting more people at risk of poverty, as families are having to use their incomes to support more relatives than they did before the crisis hit the real economy.

Intergenerational solidarity

According to the NGO Coalition on Intergenerational Solidarity, affordable access to quality services for children, adults and the elderly can play a vital role in preventing poverty and social exclusion.

In particular, access to education – which takes account of each individual’s overall development throughout their lifetime – can play a key role in breaking the intergenerational transmission of poverty.

At local level, the Coalition believes that early years’ education and care services can help to break the transmission of poverty while providing a healthy environment for the development of young children and a means of strengthening parenting skills.

The concept of intergenerational solidarity encourages young and old to help each other – and provides a way of ensuring that all members of society are valued.

That is why the EU backs the European Day on Solidarity and Cooperation between the Generations, which first took place on 29 April 2009.

The European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion will continue to raise awareness and stimulate debate about how best to raise the many challenges of poverty and intergenerational solidarity.

Who is at risk of poverty and what action is being taken?

Everybody may experience poverty at some time in his or her life. However some groups of people are more at risk of poverty such as large families with many children - and in particular single-parent families - but equally elderly people, disabled people and immigrants. In all categories, women are more affected than men.

The way poverty affects people is multi-faceted and sits hand-in-glove with social exclusion. In addition to well-known problems such as poor housing, or homelessness, people who are poor are also likely to endure:

Fact and Figures


Following facts were cited by the EU Commission to justify why this designaton of 2010 as the year to combat 'poverty and social exclusion' had become a necessity:

• 79 million people live below the poverty line (set at 60% of their country's median income). That represents 16% of Europe's population.

• One European in ten lives in a household where nobody works. Even so, work does not always guard effectively against the risk of poverty.

• For 8% of Europeans, having a job is not enough to work one's way out of poverty.

• In most Member States, children are more exposed to this scourge than the rest of the population: 19% of children live under the threat of poverty; 19 million children are affected.

Source: http://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?langId=en&catId=637


In an effort to combat poverty, Member States have agreed on a definition of poverty and to adopt a method by which to monitor the situation. They proceeded to use a common set of indicators, in order to assess more clearly the exact situation to be found right across Europe.

In order to achieve that, "poverty is measured by a set of common indicators, and people are judged to be at risk if their income is below 60% of the national median level. In absolutes terms, average incomes vary widely from one Member State to another, as does the proportion of the population at risk of poverty."

These indicators include level of unemployment, housing conditions, school drop out rates and access to public services such as health care systems.

Source: http://www.poverty.org.uk/summary/uk.htm

Facts and figures on poverty in the EU
Key indicators per country

  1. Child poverty
  2. Homelessness
  3. Vulnerable groups
  4. Financial exclusion
  5. Inclusive labour market
  6. Active inclusion


Further information about facts and figures on poverty and social exclusion in Europe can be found:


As to member states, the UK is using, for instance, an indicator system which distinguishes horizontally between all ages, children, young adults and those of working age, while vertically poverty is measured according to set of factors, including income, work, low income, education, health, housing, services and social cohesion.

Source: http://www.poverty.org.uk/summary/uk.htm

Key indicators per country


EU Initiatives

  1. EU Inclusion Strategy
  2. Funding

To tackle these and other related issues, the EU provides a framework through which Member States develop their own priorities and strategies. This framework takes into account the multi-dimensional nature of poverty while focusing particular attention on the following:

EU Inclusion Strategy

The social inclusion strategy encourages Member States to coordinate their approaches in fighting poverty and social exclusion and to place it at the top of their political agenda.

For more information
The EU’s Social Protection and Social Inclusion Joint Report 2008
Brochure: “Intergenerational Solidarity: The Way Forward”
Age Platform Europe – solidarity between the generations

Previous thematic milestones

National thematic milestone articles

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