“The government is not only leaving two million people by the side of the road but kicking them into the gutter, and even throwing dirt on them”. – Zsuzsa Ferge, sociologist, Hungarian Academy of Sciences
Poverty levels continue to grow in Hungary despite last year’s economic upturn, according to researches at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.
At a conference hosted by the academy yesterday, sociologists presented the latest statistics on poverty in the country. The conference was made public due to the failure of the Central Statistical Office (KSH) to release annual statistics in September on poverty in Hungary versus the rest of the European Union.
Hungarian Academy of Sciences sociologist Vera Messing pointed out that the percentage of Hungarians who are seriously deprived increased between 2009 and 2013 from 20.3 percent to 26.8 percent. The average for the European Union during this period was 9.6 percent. In Slovakia and Poland it was 10.2 percent and 11.9 percent, respectively.
Seriously deprived individuals are defined as those where at least three of the following nine apply: (1) Cannot pay rent or utility fees on time, (2) Cannot properly heat dwelling, (3) No money saved up for unexpected expenditures, (4) Cannot eat meat regularly, (5) Cannot afford to go on vacation for a week, (6) Cannot afford to keep a car, (7) No washing machine, (8) No television, (9) No telephone.
Messing said “Hungary is not only becoming poor, it is seriously falling behind within its own region”.
Who is in danger of social exclusion: those who are seriously deprived or live in a household whose members are under-employed, or those who live in relative poverty or in households whose income does not reach 60 percent of the average income.
The percent of those who live in danger of social exclusion in Hungary increased from 28.2 percent in 2008 to 33.5 percent in 2013.
Rising poverty levels are happening despite stagnating levels of those who live in under-employed households, meaning that household members of working age spend less than one-fifth of their time engaged in actual work. According to researchers, this indicates that behind the growing poverty is not falling work levels but something else.
In the absence of detailed KSH figures, says Messing, the data indicates that there was a conspicious increase in the numbers of seriously deprived in central Hungary.
Within the European Union, there are five member states in which more than one-third of the population is threatened with poverty: Bulgaria (48%), Romania (40.4%), Greece (35.7%), Latvia (35.1%) and Hungary (33.5%). The percentage of those threatened with material deprivation was lowest in the Czech Republic (14.6%), Holland (15.9%), Finland (16%) and Sweden (16.4%).
With the exception of Hungary between 2008 and 2013 the percentage of those threatened with poverty in Central and Eastern Europe decreased between 2008 and 2013: in Poland from 30.5% to 25.8%, in Romania from 44.2% to 40.4% and in Austria from 20.6% to 18.8%.
Eurostat statistics indicate that the younger one’s age, the greater the likelihood one lives in poverty. The percentage of children living in poverty in Hungary has increased from a little under 25% in 2008 to almost 35% in 2013. By contrast child poverty levels in the other Visegrad Four countries have decreased significantly during this period.
The researches all agreed that the situation in Hungary will continue to dramatically worsen as a result of government actions, especially tying payment of the so-called family supplement to certain conditions.
Dorotty Szikra spoke at length about public police decisions. She said that due to the failure on the part of the government to consult with experts, “anti-poverty” measures undertaken by the government became “poor quality measures”. After a while the profession cannot follow what is happening socio-politically, which complicates taking actions to mitigate damages.
Szikra cited the example of the unemployment assistance which was decreased from 9 to 3 months in 2014. She said that after the crisis there were EU countries, such as Italy, Lithuania and Romania, that lengthened the duration of unemployment assistance, and that while some countries shortened this (Denmark, for example, shortened it to two years), nowhere in the EU is the payment of unemployment assistance so short as in Hungary. She said Hungary was the only EU country to decrease the amount of unemployment assistance, which at present is HUF 22,800 (USD 90) per month.
In the meantime the conditions for receiving this have become more strict. Only one person per household may receive it. Other household members must undertake public work. Szikra believes growing numbers are leaving the system and simply not bothering to apply for unemployment assistance. She says it is not possible to know anything about these people. One part is probably leaving the country. The other is probably trying to support itself through unofficial work.
Zsombor Farkas spoke on how government actions had further narrowed poor persons’ room for manoeuvre. He points out that since 2008 the family and maternity supports have decreased 20-25 percent in real terms. He said conditioning the payment of family support to undertaking public work seriously affected 200-250,000 children, meaning that households with children living in the very worst conditions are left entirely without money.
He quoted Zsuzsa Ferge who recently wrote about the 2015 budget that “not only is the government leaving two million people by the side of the road but kicking them into the gutter, and even throwing dirt on them”.
Ferge told Thursday’s conference that “the government is practically waging war on the poor”.