Download publication

Policy Contribution

Why is it so hard to reach the EU’s ‘poverty’ target?

The ‘poverty’ target set by the European Commission aims to lift “over 20 million people out of poverty” between 2008 and 2020 in the EU27. Progress to date against this target has been disappointing. Why is it so hard to reach the Europe 2020 ‘poverty’ target? What does the poverty indicator actually measure?

By: Date: January 19, 2017 Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance

  • The Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth set a target of lifting more than 20 million people out of poverty, but European Union countries have struggled to make progress towards the target.
  • Zsolt Darvas demonstrates both theoretically and empirically that the ‘poverty’ indicator in the Europe 2020 strategy essentially measures income inequality, not poverty.
  • His illustrative calculations show that even after taking into account the positive impact expected economic growth should have on material deprivation and low work intensity, the Gini coefficient of income inequality would have to fall by four points in each EU country if the Europe 2020 ‘poverty’ target is to be reached. This would be a huge decline.
  • Enormous differences between ‘poverty’ thresholds adopted by different EU countries make the EU-wide ‘poverty’ aggregate pointless.
  • Even though 24 percent of EU citizens are deemed to be poor or socially excluded, we find that social issues receive little attention in the European Semester, which is supposed to support the achievement of Europe 2020 targets.
    The few relevant recommendations that have been made targeted poverty, employability and social exclusion, which are important goals. There have been no specific measures to reduce income inequality.
  • The political agreement between EU member states clearly expressed the goal of reducing poverty, not inequality. It was a grave mistake to base the Europe 2020 poverty target on an indicator of income inequality and to speak about ‘poverty reduction’ in relation to that indicator.
  • The European Council should meet again to discuss what social goals to pursue, and to adopt corresponding indicators and strategy.
  • There are good reasons to aim for lower income inequality, which would require further measures such as more progressive income, wealth and inheritance taxes, better opportunities for disadvantaged and poorer families, with implications for education systems and labour market institutions, and the curtailing of unjustified rents enjoyed by certain segments of society.
  • The author suggests that the misleading label of the Europe 2020 target indicator ‘at risk of poverty or social exclusion’ be replaced with ‘relative income poverty or income inequality or potentially social excluded’, which may sound convoluted, but would be better than the current short but misleading name.
  • New poverty indicators should be developed, such as considering the cost of a specific basket of goods and services as the threshold. Beyond headcount, the calculation of poverty gaps and other indicators that show the depth and severity of poverty would be important.
  • EU-wide poverty and income distribution indicators should consider the distribution of income within the EU as a whole.
View comments
Read about event

Upcoming Event

Sep
7-8
09:00

Bruegel Annual Meetings 2017

The Annual Meetings are Bruegel’s flagship event. They offer a mixture of large public debates and small private sessions about key issues in European and global economics. In a series of high-level discussions, Bruegel’s scholars, members and stakeholders will address the economic policy challenges facing Europe.

Speakers: José Antonio Álvarez Álvarez, Agnès Bénassy-Quéré, Pervenche Béres, Grégory Claeys, Zsolt Darvas, Jean Luc Demarty, Maria Demertzis, Anna Ekström, Lowri Evans, Sandro Gozi, Peter Grünenfelder, Patrick Graichen, Reiner Hoffmann, Levin Holle, Kate Kalutkiewicz, Steffen Kampeter, Peter Kažimír, Emmanuel Lagarrigue, Matti Maasikas, Steven Maijoor, Nathalie Moll, James Murray, Julia Reinaud, Carlos Sallé Alonso, André Sapir, Dirk Schoenmaker, Mateusz Szczurek, Marianne Thyssen, Reinhilde Veugelers, Nicolas Véron, Liviu Voinea, Johan Van Overtveldt, Ida Wolden Bache, Guntram B. Wolff and Georg Zachmann Topic: Energy & Climate, European Macroeconomics & Governance, Finance & Financial Regulation, Global Economics & Governance, Innovation & Competition Policy Location: Square - Brussels Meeting Centre
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Opinion

The EU and the US: a relationship in motion

Europe’s post-crisis recovery has been disappointing in comparison with the USA. But lower rates of inequality are staving off populism and bolstering support for globalisation. With the USA an increasingly unpredictable partner, the EU must address internal imbalances and build alliances to defend the multilateral order.

By: Maria Demertzis Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: July 28, 2017
Read article More by this author

Blog Post

How to make finance a force for sustainability

Traditional finance focuses on financial return, considering the financial sector separate from both society and the environment. In contrast, sustainable finance considers financial, social and environmental returns in combination. In a new essay, Dirk Schoenmaker provides a framework for sustainable finance highlighting the move from the narrow shareholder model to a broader stakeholder model. Here he presents the key arguments.

By: Dirk Schoenmaker Topic: Energy & Climate, Finance & Financial Regulation Date: July 12, 2017
Read about event More on this topic

Past Event

Past Event

Perspectives on Universal Basic Income

At this event, we discussed the possible benefits but also the possible disadvantages of Universal Basic Income.

Speakers: Grégory Claeys, Olli Kangas, Professor Philippe Van Parijs and Prof. Dr. Hilmar Schneider Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: July 12, 2017
Read article Download PDF More by this author

Essay / Lecture

Investing for the common good: a sustainable finance framework

Traditional finance focuses solely on financial return and risk. By contrast, sustainable finance considers financial, social and environmental returns in combination. This essay provides a new framework for sustainable finance highlighting the move from the narrow shareholder model to the broader stakeholder model, aimed at long-term value creation for the wider community. Major obstacles to sustainable finance are short-termism and insufficient private efforts. To overcome these obstacles, this essay develops guidelines for governing sustainable finance.

By: Dirk Schoenmaker Topic: Energy & Climate, Finance & Financial Regulation Date: July 11, 2017
Read article Download PDF More by this author

Parliamentary Testimony

European Parliament

Combating inequalities as a lever to boost job creation and growth

This presentation was delivered in Brussels at the Employment and Social Affairs Committee (EMPL) of the European Parliament on 29 May 2017.

By: Zsolt Darvas Topic: European Parliament, Testimonies Date: June 20, 2017
Read article More by this author

Blog Post

The Universal Basic Income discussion

What’s at stake: the concept of a Universal Basic Income (UBI), an unconditional transfer paid to each individual, was prominent earlier this year when Finland announced a pilot project. It’s now back in the discussion as the OECD published a report illustrating costs and distributional implications for selected countries. We review the most recent contributions on this topic.

By: Silvia Merler Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance, Global Economics & Governance Date: June 12, 2017
Read about event

Past Event

Past Event

Inclusive growth: global and European lessons for Spain

Can manufacturing still be a driver for inclusive growth around the world? What European and national policies can foster inclusive growth in Europe? What is the situation in Spain and what can Spain learn from the global and European experiences?

Speakers: Cristina Cabrera, Zsolt Darvas, Maria Demertzis, Alejandra Kindelán, Robert Lawrence and Federico Steinberg Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance, Global Economics & Governance Location: Calle Los Madrazo 36-38 Madrid Date: May 31, 2017
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

The decline of the labour share of income

What’s at stake: at odds with the conventional wisdom of constant factor shares, the portion of national income accruing to labour has been trending downward in the last three decades. This phenomenon has been linked to globalisation as well as to the change in the technological landscape - particularly “robotisation”. We review the recent literature on this issue.

By: Silvia Merler Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: April 24, 2017
Read about event More on this topic

Past Event

Past Event

Global outlook and policy priorities

At this event the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, will speak about the global outlook and policy priorities, ahead of the 2017 IMF Spring Meetings

Speakers: Christine Lagarde, Jean-Claude Trichet and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: Global Economics & Governance Location: Brussels Date: April 12, 2017
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

Building a more resilient and inclusive global economy

Curtain raiser speech ahead of the 2017 IMF Spring Meetings delivered at Bruegel by the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund.

By: Christine Lagarde Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: April 12, 2017
Read article Download PDF More on this topic

Policy Contribution

Making the best of the European single market

Now more than ever, the EU needs to address concerns about the significant decline in productivity growth and the increasing perception of unfairness. Completing the single market would unlock the EU's growth potential. At the same time, the EU should empower member states to fight inequality by helping them better distribute the gains arising from economic integration.

By: Vincent Aussilloux, Agnès Bénassy-Quéré, Clemens Fuest and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: February 2, 2017
Load more posts