Poverty represents a deprivation of the basic right of individuals to fully participate in the social, economic, cultural and political life of their communities. It is often defined in absolute terms of low income (eg: less than US$2 a day) but, in reality, the consequences exist on a relative scale.
According to the United Nations Development Program, Portugal ranks 41 for human development and is considered to have very high development. Despite that, Portugal has one of the most unequal income distributions in Europe and poverty levels are high. These differences across the Portuguese population were accentuated by the recession, which caused a steep rise in unemployment and a decline in disposable incomes. In 2011, the austerity measures that were applied harmed severely those in need of public support, with a decreased spending on education and family support programs.
The at-risk-of-poverty rate is the share of people whose total household income (after social transfers, tax and other deductions) that is available for spending or saving is below the at-risk-of-poverty threshold, which is set at 60 % of the national median equivalised disposable income after social transfers. In 2016, Eurostat estimated the Portuguese at-risk-of-poverty rate to be 26,6% (estimate that is above the European average, established to be 23,7%). This rate revealed to be more accentuated on women, on households with children and on unemployed people, giving some insights on those who are representative of the groups at risk.
In 2009, the Portuguese Amnesty International, partnering with the European Anti-Poverty Network (EAPN) and the SOCIUS / ISEG – UTL Investigation Centre, conducted a study on the perceptions of the Portuguese about poverty and social exclusion in their home country. Comparing these results with those raised by EAPN in 2004, it was possible to verify that there was an increased perception of poverty in Portugal and low expectations regarding improvements in this topic. Not only that, the perceived vulnerable groups to poverty have changed: from disabled, chronic patients, large families and at-risk groups, including drug addicted and alcoholic people (in 2004) to young people looking for their first job, employees with low wages and workers with precarious conditions (in 2009). After analysing these results, the same study has concluded that the perceived causes of poverty are being jumbled with its consequences, being the focus on job-related issues too much skewed.
Keeping in mind the conclusions of the study in what concerns the perceived association between employment and poverty, and knowing that the unemployment rate raised from 9,4%, in 2009 to 11,1% in 2016, how can one forecast Portuguese perceptions on poverty today?
According to INE, in 2016, the unemployment rate affected mainly those under 25 years and those with low educational levels, with a more similar distribution in what concerns gender differences. Assuming that the Portuguese population still consider unemployment as one of the main causes of povert, that would mean that the perception on poor groups would be associated with young people with low educational levels. However, what happens most of the times is that these youngers stay in their parents’ house, not being responsible, not to say able, to afford their living costs. A study from Eurostat shows that the Portuguese young people leave their parents ‘house, on average, with 29 years old (the highest value in the European Union). Following the mentioned assumptions, this means that the economic pressure is put over the parents, being these the ones part of the new at-risk groups.
To create awareness to this new type of poverty, it is important that the Media include this population when referring to poverty situations. Currently, the Media reinforces poverty with images showing homeless people and other extreme and miserable forms of living.
Not trying to say that these “more typical” forms of poverty are not representative and important, I believe that the Portuguese should have a wider scope on how is poverty affecting our country, creating new at-risk groups that should not be forgotten when putting politics in place. Combating poverty implies the participation of poor people to fight for their dignity, interests and aspirations. Only in a joint and personalized work there is the possibility of improving people´s self-esteem and strengthening their capacity to build a life project. For that to happen, it is also key to review social benefits (such as RSI: Rendimento Social de Inserção), evaluating the access criteria and monetary transfers values, ensuring the basic needs are satisfied.