Figure 1- “I, Daniel Blake”(2016), Drama film
Independent European films have been voicing a myriad of social problems that follow the tone of EU’s political agenda. In 2016, poverty plays a prominent performance in most of them, extending its role from setting towards the storyline of the characters. “I, Daniel Blake” is heart-rending film about a man of 55 years old that after having been employed most of his life in England, suffers an illness that restrains him form work. For the first-time Daniel Blake needs income support from the State, and he is on the Kafkian welfare bureaucracy played out against the discourse of “striver and skiver” that is now part of political debate in several European countries. “I, Daniel Blake” was nominated for several awards, and it was the winner of the Cannes 2016 top filmmaking prize, the Palme d’Or. Furthermore, “Sao Jorge” is a 2016 fierce Portuguese film on European troika bailout measures in Portugal after the 2008 world financial crisis. This film raises awareness about the effect of the 2008 crisis on unemployment, social instability, and at-work poverty. The bottom line is the following: is poverty in Europe only an artistic trend in film industry or also a striking reality check?
Eurostat figures suggest that the 2008 financial crisis had a substantial impact on poverty indicators across Europe. According to this agency, the number of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion in the EU grew from with about 114.5 million in the EU-27 in 2009 to about 122.5 million people at risk in the EU-27 in 2012. The following graph shows that despite the pre-crisis years represented a period of catch-up in poverty figures, this trend was significantly reversed when the financial crisis hit EU members in 2010.
Figure 2 – People at risk of poverty or social exclusion, EU-27 and EU-28, 2005-14, Source: Eurostat
In spite of the subtle improvement in poverty figures between 2012 and 2014, a little over 122 million people — 24.1 % of the EU population — were still at risk of poverty or social exclusion in 2014, on the report of Eurostat. In other words, nearly one in four people in the EU came across at least one of the three forms of poverty – monetary poverty, material deprivation, or low work intensity – or social exclusion.
One should point that Europe’s recession did not impact EU member states alike. In the immediate years that followed the financial crisis, from 2008 to 2011, poverty increased almost all member states. The largest increases were in Greece, Latvia, Lithuania and Ireland. However, between 2011 and 2013, the crisis’ impact across European countries is less homogeneous. While ten EU member states registered slight reductions in poverty indicators, Greece, Portugal, Spain, manifested a steady rise in poverty figures. Figure 2 depicts the change in poverty statistics from 2008 to 2014 across EU member states.
Figure 3 – People at risk of poverty or social exclusion, by country, 2008 and 2014
Additional evidence of the effect of the crisis in European countries’ poverty levels is provided by economic research. Hick (2016) analysed the impact of 2008 financial crisis on European levels of material poverty and multiple deprivation. The author concludes that in 2013 Greece, Italy, Cyprus, Spain and Portugal combined together exhibited higher levels of poverty and deprivation than the average of Slovenia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary by the time they joined the European Union in 2004.
The analysis of poverty figures for the after-crisis years in EU member states seems to suggest that the film industry’s interest in poverty in 2016 is more than just an artistic trend or an intellectual mania. In fact, it appears that the film industry has tried to give a face to the 24.1 % of the EU population that were at risk of poverty or social exclusion in 2014. Perhaps audiences will assume that these plots are fiction and propaganda. But as Bertolt Brecht stated: “Art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it”.