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Oxfam: Increasing inequality plunging millions more Europeans into poverty

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Child-poverty-014Poverty and inequality in Europe have reached shocking levels, according to a new Oxfam report. Between 2009 and 2013, the number of Europeans living without enough money to heat their homes or cope with unforeseen expenses, known as “severe material deprivation”, rose by 7.5 million to 50 million people. These are among the 123 million people(1) - almost a quarter of the EU’s population – at risk of living in poverty, while the continent is home to 342 billionaires.  ‘A Europe for the Many, Not the Few’ report findings confirm and add to research done by the IMF and others on how rising inequality is making the fight against poverty harder to win. As part of its global campaign against inequality, Oxfam works on tackling poverty across Europe.

The Oxfam report, which reveals the extent of inequality across the continent by analyzing data on poverty and wealth, is accompanied by a league table. Both were published ahead of an informal meeting of European Finance Ministers on 11 and 12 September.

The league table ranks European member states on seven separate measures of inequality and poverty.  It shows that while some countries such as Bulgaria and Greece perform particularly poorly across a number of indicators, the majority of European countries face significant problems of economic inequality, among them:

·        People in Germany, Greece and Portugal see the highest levels of income inequality before taxes and transfers, such as welfare benefits, are accounted for.
·        Inequality in disposable income is greatest in Bulgaria, Latvia and Lithuania. However a number of countries, such as France and Denmark, also saw a rise in disposable income inequality between 2005 and 2013.
·        Rates of poverty among employed people are highest in Romania and Greece, but are rising elsewhere in Europe too, including in Germany and Slovenia.
·        Women in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic experience some of the widest gender pay gaps in Europe.
·        The difference between the pay of workers and top executives is greatest in countries such as Latvia.

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The league table also shows how government policies can drive inequality up or down. For example, Sweden’s tax and benefit system is the most progressive in Europe, helping to reduce income inequality there by 53%. In comparison Spain’s tax and benefit system only managed to reduce income inequality by 32%.

Oxfam’s report warns that the excessive influence of wealthy individuals, corporations and interest groups on policy-making at a national and European level is exacerbating poverty and inequality across the continent.  For instance, representatives of private and commercial interests make up 82% of the groups responsible for advising the European commission on tax reform.  

Natalia Alonso, Deputy Director of Advocacy & Campaigns for Oxfam in Europe said: “We live on a rich continent where poverty and inequality are on the rise and are the product of political choices, not fate. To tackle inequality and poverty in Europe, we must reduce the influence the rich and powerful have in shaping government policies in their favor at the expense of the majority of European people. Greater public transparency on policy-making would be an important start.”

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The report highlights austerity alongside unfair and regressive tax systems as being the two key drivers of inequality in Europe.

Austerity measures introduced after the financial crisis in 2007/8 include cuts in public spending, the privatization of services, and deregulation of labor markets. All these measures have hit the poorest hardest. Since 2008 in Ireland, for instance, decreasing incomes and significant unemployment have forced almost a quarter of a million people out of expensive private health insurance schemes.  At the same time, Ireland has cut its health care budget by 12%.

Unfair and regressive tax systems allow multinational corporations to evade billions of euros in taxes, heaping the tax burden on individual citizens.  In Spain, 90% of tax revenue comes from individuals through labor, income and consumption taxes, while corporate taxes account for just 2% of the total tax revenue.

“Governments need to rebalance our unfair tax systems so that companies pay their fair share of taxes. Governments must also rethink austerity and reinvest in public services and guarantee decent wages, so that the poorest in our societies do not continue to pay the price of the financial crisis,” Alonso said

The report 'A Europe for the Many, Not the Few’ and the European league table is available here.

Inequality in disposable income is a measure of the inequality in a population’s income after tax and transfers such as benefits. Market income inequality is a measure of the inequality in a population’s income before taxes and transfers such as benefits.

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Belgium

Clashes break out in Brussels in protests over coronavirus restrictions

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Police and protesters clashed in the streets of Brussels on Sunday (21 November) in demonstrations over government-imposed COVID-19 restrictions, with police firing water cannon and tear gas at demonstrators throwing rocks and smoke bombs, witnesses said, write Christian Levaux, Johnny Cotton and Sabine Siebold, Reuters.

About 35,000 people took part in demonstrations, police said, which began peacefully before violence broke out.

Protesters wearing black hoods threw stones at police as they advanced with water cannon at the main junction in front of the European Union Commission headquarters, Reuters journalists said.

Facing up to the police lines, the protesters held hands and chanted "freedom". One protester was carrying a placard reading "when tyranny becomes law, rebellion becomes duty".

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Police forces stand guard as people protest against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) measures near the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium November 21, 2021. REUTERS/Johanna Geron

Protesters also threw smoke bombs and fireworks, the newspaper Le Soir reported. The situation calmed down later, police said.

Belgium tightened its coronavirus restrictions on Wednesday (17 November), mandating wider use of masks and enforcing work from home, as cases rose in the country's fourth COVID-19 wave. Read more.

There have been 1,581,500 infections and 26,568 coronavirus-related deaths reported in the country of 11.7 million people since the pandemic began. Infections are increasing again, with 13,826 new cases reported on average each day.

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Violence has also broken out in anti-restriction protests in Belgium's neighbour the Netherlands in recent days. On Friday, police in Rotterdam opened fire on a crowd.

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European Commission

NextGenerationEU: Commission receives payment request from Spain for €10 billion under the Recovery and Resilience Facility

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The Commission has received the first payment request from Spain under the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) for a disbursement of €10 billion in financial support (net of pre-financing). Spain's overall recovery and resilience plan will be financed by €69.5 billion in grants. Payments under the RRF are performance-based and contingent on Spain implementing the investments and reforms outlined in its recovery and resilience plan. This first payment request relates to 52 milestones covering several reforms in the areas of sustainable mobility, energy efficiency, decarbonisation, connectivity, public administration, skills, education and social, labour and fiscal policy.

The Commission now has two months to assess the request. It will then send its preliminary assessment of Spain's fulfilment of the milestones and targets required for this payment to the Council's Economic and Financial Committee. More information on the process of the payment requests under the RRF is available in this Q&A. More information on the Spanish recovery and resilience plan is available here.

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Belgium

'When the Smurfs meet Monkey King'

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'When the Smurfs meet Monkey King' is a children's art exhibition celebrating the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Belgium.

The successful art exhibition celebrating the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Belgium in La Louvière, the birthplace of Surrealism in Belgium that ended on 24 October gave the opportunity to nearly 300 local primary and middle school students in just one week to depict their vision of friendship between China and Belgium.

On 17 October, during the opening ceremony, Françoise Ghiot, Laurent Wimlot, aldermen of La Louvière, and their guests from China and Belgium attended the event. Counsellor Yang Qing, wife of the Chinese Ambassador to Belgium, also recorded a video for the inauguration of the event.

Counsellor Yang Qing said in her speech that she admired the exhibition held in La Louvière. Using pure and innocent artistic perspective, extraordinary creativity and imagination, the children have well defined the cultural elements of both countries. Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Belgium with children’s eyes, sincere feelings, those future ambassadors of friendship have expressed their visions of a better collaborative future between the two nations.

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Ghiot said in her speech that she was very happy on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Belgium to see children’s paintings from China. The art exhibition opened a skylight of artistic exchange for local children.

This children's art exhibition was jointly curated by the city of La Louvière, the Nardone Gallery, and Yellow Vitamines. Through the LPGA (Little Painter Global International Art Exhibition), covering 40 cities and 500 aesthetic education training institutions in China, 5000 children’s work were collected and 200 were finally selected to focus on Belgium. With the innocent help of children's brushes, imagination and understanding, art and culture provided an ideal medium to understanding differences and strengthening the bond between China and Belgium.

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