According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, generic poverty in Europe remains prevalent, despite the efforts of the EU and its Member States. While many EU nations have high Human Development Index (HDI) scores, some European countries still have populations living on less than $2 USD a day. Economic growth has slowed in Europe since 2008 and is predicted to decrease to 2.7% by 2030, the largest regional decrease in the world. High unemployment and a decline in social assistance and unemployment benefits present a challenge for cities and communities across Europe.
Migration from rural areas to cities across Europe has consequently led to the impoverishment of rural areas–including a decrease access to services, education, ICT and more.
However, cities like Malaga, Paris, and Lisbon are examples of cities confronting the challenges of poverty head on. These are stories of local leaders empowering others to make their cities more inclusive and more resilient.
Poor households suffer from deprivation in a variety of ways. Low income, limited access to the labour market, inability to obtain loans and the tendency to cut short education are only some of the social and economic restrictions affecting poor families. All these issues are profoundly inter-related and help to perpetrate the poverty cycle. Therefore, the city of Alphen aan den Rijn has adopted a multi-dimensional approach that attempts to attack the problem on a variety of fronts.
Access to cultural life for the most disadvantaged is an essential element of fighting poverty and social exclusion. Indeed, far from being a luxury or a chosen lifestyle, culture is a vehicle for social integration, participation in community life, broadening of knowledge and enhancement of capabilities. It is a way of stimulating thought, building self-esteem and nurturing the appreciation of human dignity.
Lisbon demonstrates that it is possible to rehabilitate living quarters in historical city centres without excluding poor populations. The two methods most frequently used by municipalities to renovate a neighbourhood are to demolish existing housing, in order to make room for new housing, or to undertake expensive work to increase the tourist or commercial value of the area. Lisbon opted for a third way in not seeking a radical transformation, but instead by limiting its own intervention to the strict minimum necessary to render the decaying zones inhabitable.
Norwich, a city of 170,000 inhabitants, is a member of the World Alliance of Cities Against Poverty. Although it is apparently a prosperous city, one third of its citizens live below acceptable levels of income. In 1995, the Norwich City Council elaborated a new anti-poverty strategy. One of the actions that was initiated as part of this strategy is a micro-credit programme for women, “The Full Circle,” which began in March 1998.
The City of Paris, a member of the World Alliance of Cities Against Poverty, took the initiative in 1993 of organising an emergency medical and welfare service for the homeless, the Samu Social de Paris (SSP). Building on this action, the municipality opened day shelters for the homeless in 1996. To realise these projects, the Municipality of Paris appealed to both public and private partners. These partnerships have enabled the municipality to limit its costs and gradually reduce its share of the total investment. Similar partnerships could be formed for other types of project.
For low-income families, participation in cultural and social events is a very expensive undertaking. Paying for their basic living costs, such as housing, food and clothing leaves hardly any financial resources for cultural and social activities. In addition to the limitation this imposes on people’s lives and personal development, it also isolates them from the rest of the community. In 1989, the municipality of The Hague introduced the “Stork Pass Initiative,” offering important discounts for poor people’s participation in the social and cultural life of the city.