Eradicating Poverty: Fighting Indifference & Ignorance

On 21 October the European Parliament’s Intergroup Fighting Against Poverty invited to a meeting to mark the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.

Keynote speaker Mario Monti, Italian economist and former Prime Minister of Italy, stated that while poverty has decreased globally, it has increased in Europe. Mr Monti explained it has to do with globalisation. Globalisation contributes to the development of wealth and wellbeing between industrialised and developing countries, and it has led to development of for example technology and transport. At the same time, the gap between rich and poor within EU Member States has increased. Mr Monti argued that globalisation needs to be governed through common policies. The EU Member States are themselves to blame for the increase in poverty due to the lack of fiscal coordination. The EU internal market reflects the integration of public authorities, such as within competition and monetary policies. In other areas, such as defence policies there is not the same integration. Nationalism and populism are the reasons why public authorities do not want more EU coordination. Integration is a considered a ‘dirty’ word, and national, regional and local identities feeds European disengagement and xenophobia. Inequalities are negative socially, ethically and for the growth of society and economy, and it should be tackled through among others social services and taxation.

A gentleman from the audience asked Mr Monti to give an example of when the poorest people really has benefitted from the EU. Surprisingly Mr Monti answered with an example of how the EU catches cartel leaders of major international companies. These operations also identifies the victims, and thereby indirectly affects poor people. As for Italy, he explained he introduced tax on those that previously benefited from tax evasion, money that instead can be used to fund pensions for poor people. While these examples may be interesting, I find it worrying that Mr Monti could not give more convincing examples of what the EU is actually doing for the poorest in our societies (read my blog questioning how relatable the EU is and its added value for the most disadvatanged).

Isabelle Bouyer and Raymonde Languet from ATD Fourth World shared testimonies of daily humiliation people living in poverty experiences. Among their examples: the women who were told off by a dentist in front of all the people in the waiting room that her son could no longer received dental care due to her insufficient insurance, and the women who turned to a social worker to help her brother but was asked herself to take a HIV test. ATD Fourth World raised the importance of recognising that poverty is a ground of discrimination. People living in poverty has to be a part of finding solutions, a partner on equal footing, without being judged.

Jorge Nuno Mayer, Secretary General of Caritas-Europa, gave examples of social innovative businesses. Magdas Hotel is a successful social business in Vienna focusing on maximising societal benefits and to be a role model on how to integrate refugees. Investment in social services and social protection is needed for a resilient society. Mr Nuno Mayer also reminded about the new Sustainable Development Goals, which includes anti-poverty goals and apply also to EU Member States.

Sylvie Goulard, President of the Intergroup, suggested the EU to move the tax burden from labour towards consumption. Today the taxes are too high for companies to hire. Further we need to tackle tax evasion and invest in human capital.

Another gentleman from the audience wisely pointed out that, in the end of the day we have two enemies to fight in order to eradicate poverty, that of Indifference and Ignorance.