We don’t yet know what the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will be. We can’t be sure how long it will take, nor how many will get sick. There are plenty of estimates flying around, but the picture is still evolving as more data comes in.

It is already clear, however, that the economic impact of COVID-19 will be enormous. Comparisons are already being drawn with the Great Depression of the 1930s (though, again, it’s too early to say for sure). Governments are implementing economic measures, such as wage guarantees and “helicopter money”) that would have been unthinkable even weeks ago.

What will the impact of the crisis be on unemployment and poverty across Europe? We conducted two interviews in early-February (i.e. before the full scale of the COVID-19 crisis was clear) about poverty in the European Union. The interviews don’t address the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, but feel free to do so in the comments below and we’ll look for policymakers and experts to respond.

What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in from Julia, who worries there is “so much poverty” across Europe right now. What do the figures say? How much poverty is there in Europe, and is it growing?

To get a response, we spoke to Zsolt Darvas, Senior Fellow at the think-tank Bruegel, who has researched the EU’s efforts to meet its Europe 2020 poverty targets. What would he say to Julia?

The very first question is: what do we mean by poverty? Because, if you compare the living standards of the European Union to the living standards in Africa, South Asia, or Latin America, then people who are relatively poor in Europe still have a much better life than people who are poor elsewhere.

But that doesn’t mean that there are no people in Europe who really lack resources – there are a number of very poor people in Europe, in many countries, mostly in the Central and Eastern European Member States, in Greece, in Italy, Southern Europe in general. But there are also some such people also in more advanced countries like France or Germany.

If you look at the trends, then what we see is relatively little change in most countries, but what you also see is that the Central and Eastern European members of the European Union are converging with Western Europe at a rather rapid pace, and the number of poor people in these countries is actually declining.

So, I think from the perspective of poverty, what’s happening in Central and Eastern Europe is good news, but what’s happening, let’s say, in Italy or in Greece is really bad news, because in the Southern European countries, more and more people face major, major constraints on their living, incomes are falling. So, I think the developments are not universal in Europe but should be differentiated between, let’s say, the East and the South.

For another perspective, we also put Andreu’s comment to Dietmar Bartsch, a member of the German Bundestag and co-leader of the leftwing Die Linke party’s parliamentary group. What would he say?

Yes, poverty is also increasing in Europe. This is mainly due to the fact that unemployment is high in many countries; over 12 million people are unemployed in the euro area. A third of all employees in Europe work in underpaid and unsecured conditions, especially women. There are certainly even bigger problems in Mali and Bangladesh, but also in Europe the gap is widening, in almost all countries.

The European project must not only be a project of the business elites, it must also be a social, cultural, and, of course, a peace project. We need Europe-wide social standards and must invest in jobs and thus in the future. We need minimum wages and stronger unions so that the division of society and Europe does not continue. It is important for our own sake that we take measures: large companies have to be taxed uniformly across Europe – Google’s and Facebook’s huge assets in particular have to be taxed uniformly and small and medium-sized incomes have to be relieved.

Long-story-short: even in the developed industrial countries, the gap is widening, there is poverty. Even in rich Germany there are homeless people, there are children in poverty, there are pensioners who have to collect bottles. A society cannot ‘afford it’.

Is poverty growing in Europe? Why hasn’t the EU met its Europe 2020 poverty reduction targets? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: Photo by Mihály Köles on Unsplash; PORTRAIT CREDITS: Bartsch (c) DBT

13 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar

    How is this a topic for debate? There are pretty clear stats on poverty and the economic situation.

    • avatar
      Debating Europe

      It’s about the impact COVID-19 might have on poverty levels. Is that not worth debating?

    • avatar

      @ Debating Europe I don’t see how it is debatable. It’s obvious poverty is increasing and will increase further because of all the measures taken by all of the European countries. I don’t understand how anyone could disagree.

  2. avatar

    Unfortunately yes. Thanks to neoliberalism.

  3. avatar

    Unemployment will grow. Europe should protect more the inside market… Boost European preference… Reindustrialise our countries… Build a social and tax policy…

  4. avatar
    David Bisset

    The OECD employment outlook for 2019 refers to a number of phenomena that are relevant when asking the question: “Is poverty growing in Europe?” eg skills obsolescence, deterioration in job quality and decreasing job security. These phenomena apply in all European countries but the negative implications for families are greater in those countries in which shortcomings in social welfare provisions can lead to failure in the provision of a reasonable standard of living and the lack of affordable housing in the more economically buoyant regions acts as a major deterrent to labour mobility. Austerity measures in a number of countries have had a significant impact on the economic welfare of those who are unable to work because of (physical or mental) illness or a significant disability. This includes care providers.

  5. avatar

    If you think the poverty levels on this joke of a continent are high now,then just wait until this corona virus crisis is over,and it will be over, probably about this time next year,by then the debt levels of every single country will be unsustainable.

  6. avatar
    EU Reform- Proactive

    “Why hasn’t the EU met its Europe 2020 poverty reduction targets?”

    To connect the relevancy (poverty) with the current Corona pandemic raises more questions & puzzles me.

    Eurostat has all the statistics & the EU all the resources to tell us. Why not do so?


    We individuals (DE users) are neither analytics nor a statistic research institution. EU Accountability would require a critical, but pragmatic and honest report back to us- not more EU semantics and diversions!

    “KEEP IT RELEVANT” is one of several conduct rules for Debating Europe.

    Shouldn’t it apply to both of us- “USERS” & the “Theme Setters”= EU?

    Poverty in the EU is one of many indicators and consequences of its economy and the direct competence of the EU.

  7. avatar

    Zsolt Darvas’s reply is ridiculous. Comparing living standards of Africa to the Eu is going to make no difference to the increased poverty in the EU. These are two different subjects and frankly an insult to the increasing poverty-stricken EU citizens. Additionally stating that some poverty is declining somewhere in the EU makes no difference to the actual poverty-stricken people. What we want to hear from EU think-tanks and MEP’s are solutions with quick implementation that gets results. Then come and tell EU citizens- we did ‘x’ and that abolished poverty in the EU. And no, developments need to be universal and not differentiated between East and South and one possible way is by an EU-wide unconditional GMI and equal minimum wages, minimum pensions and minimum benefits. The EU has equalised tariffs etc for business it is time to equalize basic incomes for EU all EU citizens too. Enough with descriptions, excuses, justifications and zero plans and zero action. Dietmar Bartsch is better than your think-tank guy. GMI note: An EU-wide unconditional GMI would allow the EU to lower the minimum wage so that wages are more manageable to business and more competitive globally [with China especially] and also remove businesses opening in slave-wage EU member countries. The unconditional EU-wide GMI would subsidise and raise this minimum wage to bring up the standard of living and abolish poverty. Business’ could open in any EU member country, not just slave labour ones, to increase their economy and decrease the divisions between member countries. Same with Germany offering higher minimum wages. Workers wouldn’t be flocking to specific countries again lessening the divide. 4 birds killed with one stone. Spread the money and stop heartlessly using people and brushing off their suffering as collateral damage. Do something about it.

  8. avatar

    Unfortunatly yes, thanks to Socialism

    • avatar
      Catherine Benning

      Is poverty growing in Europe?


      The USA has the deepest growing poverty in the Western world. They do not have health care at all, without vastly expensive health insurance. Even with it, they are not properly covered at any given time. They are not covered for pregnancy or childbirth. Benefits in unemployment barely exist. Americans, quite literally, starve whilst their taxes are high if they are low paid. Yet trillions is spent annually on weapons of mass destruction and warfare. All paid for by their poverty stricken. The rich pay the least personal percentage of tax in that horrendous political capitalist system.

      Socialism ended that in the UK after WWII and did so in parts of Europe. Even to an extent in the USA. Most now being disassembled. Without socialism you could easily become a bag lady. Unless born an aristocrat with money. The both not always going hand in hand.

      And look at the civility of it then.



  9. avatar

    Devastating for the poorest, for at least the next decade.

Your email will not be published

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Notify me of new comments. You can also subscribe without commenting.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

By continuing to use this website, you consent to the use of cookies on your device as described in our Privacy Policy unless you have disabled them. You can change your cookie settings at any time but parts of our site will not function correctly without them.