László Andor the EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion has added his voice to the debate around inequality, social exclusion, falling wages, the dignity and legitimacy of working for little more than welfare rates and the millions of people trapped in poverty’s vicious pincher movement. He has also questioned governments’ commitment — or ability — to trying to protect the material security of the 124m Europeans at risk of poverty , the highest number in jeopardy since the foundation of the EEC in 1957.
The tinder-box issue will be a central theme at next week’s annual meetings of the IMF and the World Bank. The rich/poor divide manifests itself in so many ways in today’s world that it cannot be safely ignored. Like the economic recovery it must have an impact on peoples’ lives to have any real meaning. Hearing about a remote recovery while fighting for survival, to use the wisdom of the vernacular, does not butter any parsnips.
Growing inequity and poverty is the catalyst for the migration crisis facing southern Europe. This exodus, primarily from North Africa, is driven by the fact that the number of people living on less than $2 a day in sub-Saharan Africa has doubled since 1981. This dreadful statistic, a real indictment of the developed world, must be a powerful motivation for so many of the young Muslims joining terror organisations like Isis. It may not be an acceptable response to being trapped in bestial poverty but it is an very understandable one. This process has a parallel on America’s southern borders where so many young Mexicans, and others from impoverished Central American countries, get involved in crime because a legitimate alternative is beyond their reach.
In Ireland that divide is at the root of our housing crisis. It found expression just yesterday too in the Irish Times poll which put Fine Gael and Sinn Féin level at 24% — or 24% of the electorate still bothered to vote. Economic issues will be the decisive ones issues in next week’s bye-elections — despite the bruising McNulty pantomime.
Mr Andor, a Hungarian economist, painted a grim picture; “more than 6m jobs have been lost in the EU since 2008 and material deprivation has increased substantially in the hardest hit countries, especially among the young. The rising in-work poverty abates the attractiveness of work as a main source of income for workers and their families. Child poverty increased significantly in 19 member countries lowering the ability of 26m poor children to benefit fully from their childhood and education”.
These kind of figures call the legitimacy and value of the European project into question, especially, as Mr Andor points out, as the gap between rich and poor nations within the EU is growing too. He pointed out too “poverty should not become a tolerated collateral consequence of fiscal adjustments.” Ensuring that it does not is the greatest challenge facing today’s EU and the governments of its member states if we are not to return to the unacceptable social structures that shaped our societies before the First World War. It is time for meaningful action on this incendiary justice issue.
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