The growing number of poor people in crisis-hit countries and among young people threatens the existence of the EU, warned the prestigious German think-tank which carried out the study.
As the economy picks up — with Ireland having one of the highest rates of growth in the EU — the study says the Republic is one of the biggest losers when it comes to growing poverty and inequality.
Despite being one of the richest countries in the EU, the study reveals we are nearly last when it comes to distribution of wealth, ranking 18th — in the bottom-third of the EU countries along with Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, and Latvia.
“These countries show massive shortcomings in most areas of the social justice index, in some cases worsening dramatically in recent years,” the report states.
While a strong economy is important, poorer countries than Ireland, such as Czech Republic, Slovenia, and Estonia, have a much higher degree of social justice.
“Ireland has indeed a similarly high GDP per capita like Sweden, but ranks considerably below average when it comes to social justice (18th compared to rank 1st) and counts as one of the biggest losers in the country comparison”, said Dr Jörg Dräger of Bertelsmann Stiftung, which carried out the study.
The massive austerity programmes have had a bigger effect on the less well-off than on the wealthy in the crisis-risen states of the EU, increasing the social imbalance within these countries, and also increasing the difference with nordic states like Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and Netherlands.
The imbalances are also growing between certain groups of people in these countries, such as among younger people. More than a quarter of children — 28% — are threatened by poverty or social exclusion across the EU, which is a much greater percentage than just five years ago. In Greece, two-thirds of young people are not working.
The report is particularly scathing of the way austerity was applied in Greece, saying cuts were not applied in a balanced way throughout the population.
What makes the difference in the Nordic countries and Netherlands are good policies in the fields of poverty reduction, labour market access, and social cohesion and non-discrimination, the study found.
Social justice should play a bigger role in European politics in the future, and the EU should not just be a guardian of economic stability but include policies to combat social injustice, the study concludes, adding that it makes economic sense.
The EU Social Justice Index looked at six areas: Poverty, education, employment, health, generational justice, social cohesion, and non-discrimination.