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FAQs about poverty

Poverty in Austria

FAQs on poverty and social exclusion

1. What is poverty?

Poverty always means a lack of opportunity.
Those who are affected by poverty have a low income, poor educational opportunities, are sick more often and can only participate to a limited extent in social life.

The statistics speak of manifest poverty or "considerable material deprivation" if low income is associated with restrictions in central areas of life. In Austria, as in every EU country, the income poverty line is defined as 60% of the median per capita household income, which in Austria is currently (as of 2015: EU-SILC 2014) 1,161 euros for a one-person household. This sum is to be understood as twelfth of the annual income, whereby "income" in turn means net income: it is about the actually available income, including all social benefits etc., after deduction of taxes and social security contributions.

Being affected by restrictions in key areas of life means, for example, not being able to replace worn out clothing, not eating healthy, not keeping the home warm, and not being able to make unexpected expenses. Those who live in poverty often also experience exclusion, loneliness and isolation. He or she can no longer afford to invite friends or relatives over to dinner, or to occasionally go to a café, cinema or to play sports.

2. Is there even poverty in Austria?

Yes.
Not only those who sleep on the street or in cardboard boxes are affected by poverty.
In rich countries like Austria, poverty is often only visible at second glance.

At first glance, poverty in Austria and Europe is very different from poverty in those countries where there are often no schools or hospitals for many people and millions fight against malnutrition and epidemics every day.

And even on closer inspection, poverty levels in so-called countries of the South cannot be compared directly with one another, neither in terms of depth nor in terms of the number of people affected. According to the United Nations (UN) Human Development Report 2010, an estimated 1.44 billion people worldwide live in absolute poverty, which means they have less than 1.25 US dollars a day at their disposal.

What those affected by poverty have in common here and there, despite all the differences, is the lack of life chances and resources. This includes nutrition and living space as well as education, health, friendships, recognition and the opportunity to help shape your own living space.

Here as there, poverty means that those affected cannot participate sufficiently in the existing - national or global - wealth.

3. Who is affected by poverty?

Poverty can affect everyone.
Those who are unemployed, single parents, immigrants, or have poorly paid and insecure jobs are particularly at risk of poverty.

The risk of falling through social networks has increased, and ever broader sections of the population live in unstable and insecure conditions. Women are more affected by poverty than men. A quarter of those affected by poverty are children, adolescents or those under the age of 26 who are dependent on their parents. Your parents have immigrated, are unemployed, have single parents or have jobs that they cannot make a living from. If the parents are affected by poverty and there are no opportunities for advancement, the children often remain so for the rest of their lives.

For many, poverty is a temporary situation. For many others, however, it is not possible for years to escape the situation of lack and severely limited life chances.

4. Why are women - and especially single parents - more at risk of poverty?

The Austrian welfare state is closely linked to the labor market and unfortunately it still assumes a breadwinner model, that is, from that old family and role model in which men provide the household income and women "earn" as much as possible. For many people this model is no longer right and for many it has never been so right anyway, because both men and women have to earn money to support the family.

At the same time, it is still the case that women are unable to take part in the labor market, or only to a limited extent, because of caring activities (and it is still mostly women who do this). As a result, this has a negative effect on their income, especially when women have to provide for their own maintenance and that of their children. Although they do valuable social work in the care and upbringing of their children, in the care of relatives and in the household, they often live on the poverty line.

5. Aren't people affected by poverty often to blame for their situation? And don't many just take advantage of the social system?

Both studies and experience in social work show that it is above all unjust structures such as poor working conditions and unpredictable vicissitudes of life, such as illness, job loss or divorce that lead to poverty.
Hardly anyone lives voluntarily from social benefits.

In addition to the stressful poverty situation, those affected are often shamed and put under pressure by prejudice. Anyone who deals with people who live in poverty knows that, for example, separation or the loss of a job can quickly lead to poverty. Especially when the starting conditions were bad and there is a lack of effective welfare state measures to prevent poverty.

We live in a society that pays homage to a one-sided concept of achievement: those who are least at risk of poverty are not necessarily those who - paid or unpaid - work the hardest, but rather those who earn the best. What is forgotten is that everyone is active and achieves something, especially if they care for children or old people or if they volunteer.

What is written about social abuse in the media and discussed in taverns or on the tram is mostly based on pure prejudice and cannot be confirmed by any studies. There will always be individual cases that 'exploit' some system, and the question should be more precisely what the intention is: for example, do people who occasionally "work illegally" in addition to receiving emergency aid want to enrich themselves? Or is it about earning an income with precarious additional jobs that is enough to live on? After all, there is no minimum unemployment benefit in Austria, and the amount of social benefits is set without taking into account the real costs of everyday life. Comprehensive administrative assistance obligations in combination with IT-supported client documentation make it almost impossible anyway, e.g. to deceive the needs-based minimum income with false information. People affected by poverty are also transparent people. Apart from that, abuse of services - keyword tax evasion and subsidy fraud - is not limited to those at the bottom of society.

6. Is the gap between rich and poor really growing?

Yes. With the growing prosperity of a few, social polarization also increases. Income and wealth and the opportunities associated with them are distributed more and more unevenly.

Numerous studies confirm the growing gap between rich and poor, which is worsening, especially in or after times of crisis. In Austria, the richest ten percent of the population already have more than half of private financial assets. The bottom two thirds have practically no or very little reserves or are only in debt.

Globally, the five percent poorest have lost 25% of their income in recent years, while the richest five percent have even gained twelve percent.

2.7 billion people living in poverty have to share the same amount of income
like the 50,000 richest.

Sources: Social report, OENB and OECD

7. What does wealth mean?

There is no generally accepted definition of wealth.
Usually, wealth is understood to mean a certain excess of material possessions - and thus also opportunities and freedoms.

The understanding of wealth differs in many societies and analyzes, but mostly has to do with - more than - sufficient possession and / or power of disposal over different resources and thus also with the existing possibilities and freedoms of individuals and society.

Wealth, from which everyone can benefit, arises through fair distribution, not only of money but also of opportunities and skills.
If it is possible to organize existing resources through fair taxes and sustainable investments and to participate in the financing of public infrastructure in such a way that as many as possible can participate, wealth can achieve a great deal.

8. How can poverty be combated?

Many different measures are needed to effectively prevent and combat poverty. An income that is really enough to live on, a good social infrastructure and increased participation of all citizens in political decision-making processes.

Poverty has many facets and dimensions. That is why the fight against poverty must also start at various points. First of all, there needs to be a living income for all people. In addition, investments in social infrastructure (such as childcare, public transport, a socially permeable education system) are required, i.e. social services that are high quality, affordable and accessible to everyone. In addition, there is a need for a labor market policy that creates new and good jobs for everyone and that ensures that there are qualifications and job opportunities also for people who are very difficult to get a job on the regular labor market.

9. Why is poverty combated with money instead of goods? Shouldn't it be better to give people affected by poverty something to eat and a roof over their heads instead of money?

Both are necessary. We need cash benefits - because we need our money to live in a country like this. But we also need good social services and a functioning infrastructure, i.e. good and affordable housing, a high-quality education system, comprehensive health care and an extensive network of public transport. In addition, good, livelihood-wage employment and extensive opportunities for participation are also necessary in order to combat and avoid poverty. Money makes a lot possible here and therefore also stands for the opportunities that are open as a result and for the freedoms that it enables.

10. What are social markets? Are they an effective tool for fighting poverty?

In recent years the number of social markets has increased throughout Austria. This shows that there is a need here and this development is very problematic. It shows that poverty in Austria is perhaps not as 'relative' as many people think. There are many and obviously more and more people who have to take advantage of every savings opportunity that is available and are therefore dependent on social markets. It is important not to overlook the fact that these markets are only a stopgap solution - they help to alleviate immediate hardship. That's a good thing, but they don't solve the underlying structural problem.

11. In a nutshell: What are the first and decisive political measures in the fight against poverty and social exclusion?

  1. You need a minimum income that is really enough to live on.
  2. It needs a high-quality, well-developed social infrastructure that is accessible to everyone
  3. A new and innovative labor market and working time policy is needed
  4. We need more and comprehensive opportunities for political participation for people affected by poverty and social exclusion.

12. What does the participation of people with experience of poverty actually mean?

Poverty reduction measures must be developed together with people who have experienced poverty. This is the only way to develop effective and sustainable solutions that address the very specific reality of those affected.

The poverty conference supports the self-organization of people who have experienced poverty with the project "Becoming Visible". Together we fight to ensure that the voices and suggestions of those affected by poverty are better heard and given more weight. We use different methods, such as street theater scenes, so-called flash mobs, forum theater performances, or the participation of people with experience of poverty in various preparation groups, committees and platforms for poverty reduction.

In connection with the topic of participation, there are many fundamental questions about democracy and democratic co-determination that urgently require further and more in-depth discussion.

Participation initiatives:
Participation project of the poverty conference: Becoming visible

13. What could a better distribution look like? Where do you get the funds from?

Wealth, from which everyone could benefit, arises through distribution. Not only the distribution of money, as it can and should be organized through taxes and social benefits, but also through a better distribution of opportunities, but also of time, of skills, etc. Extensive empirical, international studies such as those by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett show that, as measured by gross domestic product, the richest of the rich countries are not necessarily the ones with the fewest social problems. At a certain point, it's no longer about getting richer, but about how wealth is distributed: the cake doesn't have to get bigger, the whole point is how it's shared. So, to a certain extent, the wealth is already there and it is primarily a question of who is entitled to what or how we organize so that as many as possible can participate in the wealth and create further wealth - in the sense of quality of life, sustainability and social cohesion.

In the course of the 8th Austrian Poverty Conference, the poverty conference dealt intensively with distribution issues and is currently campaigning for fair taxation to finance important future investments within the framework of the “Ways out of the crisis” alliance.

Allianz: ways out of the crisis

14. Would a wealth tax or a financial transaction tax reduce poverty?

Not automatically. When it comes to taxes, two questions always arise: What are they generated from - that is, who pays? And then: what is the money spent on? In order to be able to distribute it better, taxes must first be collected - financial transaction and other wealth-related taxes could bring a lot here, not least because Austria has so far been one of the worst performers among the rich OECD member states in terms of wealth taxation. These funds can only be used to fight poverty, however, if the money is spent accordingly, e.g. invested in social infrastructure: in a good health system, in public transport, in good educational opportunities for everyone, in quality childcare, good housing, etc.

Specific examples of necessary wealth taxes and the sensible expenditure to be financed with them can be found in the civil society future budget 2011, on which the poverty conference as part of the “Ways out of the crisis” alliance contributed.

Future budget (PDF)
Facts on wealth tax (PDF)
Allianz: ways out of the crisis

15. Wouldn't the subject of poverty be obsolete once and for all with an unconditional basic income?

In the Poverty Conference there are very different opinions on this issue. Some of our member organizations, such as the Catholic Social Academy, have been committed to an unconditional basic income for many years. Others see such a model with great skepticism or are even very strictly against it, for example because they fear the loss of all other social and infrastructure services.

How much a basic income could contribute to poverty reduction depends to a large extent on the respective model, its underlying objectives and on whether additional investments are made in high-quality infrastructure, such as public transport, good schools, comprehensive health care, etc. Otherwise a basic income will quickly lead back into poverty.

Basic income network: www.grundeinkommen.at

In general it can be said that there is no single magic cure against poverty.
However, the impetus provided by the concept of unconditional basic income in the direction of a new distribution of paid and unpaid work and new tax models are undisputedly very important and helpful.

We will continue to discuss these issues in depth at the Poverty Conference.

16. What educational opportunities do young people who grow up in poverty have?

At the moment we in Austria have the big problem that the opportunities in our education system are much more influenced by the social origin than by the talent of the students. Those who come from a household affected by poverty, even if they are very clever, have been shown to have poorer chances in school.How teachers and classmates see us, what we trust ourselves and what we are trusted, whether we suffer from the existential worries of our family or whether we have our minds and hearts free for school material: all of this influences our success in school. In addition, of course, there are also poorer and better schools and different ways of receiving support outside of school. It would be important to have a school system that tries to ensure social equilibrium, in which it does not allow ghettos, honors the social skills of teaching staff, does not require extracurricular support and avoids experiences of shame and humiliation.

17. Who benefits from better distribution?

Almost everyone benefits from fair distribution.
The smaller the gap between rich and poor, the greater the social cohesion and the better a society functions.

Results of inequality research from over three decades show that in those states that invest in the prosperity of all and in equal distribution, social problems are decreasing and the quality of life of the general population is improving.

The more evenly the distribution of income, wealth and other resources is organized, the fewer illnesses and psychological problems there are. Crime is falling, everyone's level of education is increasing, social mobility and environmental awareness are increasing.

Not only people affected by poverty benefit from a more equitable distribution of wealth, but society as a whole.

The studies by Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson, among others, as presented at the 8th Poverty Conference, provide impressive evidence of this.

18. Who is doing something to fight poverty?

Because poverty has so many dimensions, it also needs many different actors in the fight against poverty. Combating poverty must start individually, locally, in Austria, in Europe and globally.

On an individual level, it helps if we look at it and not the other way when it comes to poverty.

In addition to state offers, there are many social organizations in Austria that raise awareness of the issue of poverty and provide concrete support to people affected by poverty: with advice, access to social services and asserting their rights. But also in helping the homeless, refugees and delinquents, on the expanded labor market, in debt counseling, etc.

The Poverty Conference sees itself as a lobby in matters of poverty reduction and fair distribution and urges political decision-makers to act.

In the European Poverty Network EAPN, she is committed to a social Europe together with the networks of other countries and also supports the fight against global poverty and inequality.

The member organizations of the Poverty Conference: Members
European Poverty Network: EAPN

19. What is the Poverty Conference doing?

The poverty conference networks over 30 social organizations (advice centers, charities, self-organizations, social integration companies, research and educational institutions ...), as well as some regional networks in the federal states, which act as a lobby for those who do not have a lobby.

The Poverty Conference is committed to addressing the background and causes, data and facts, strategies and measures relating to poverty, social exclusion and inequality in Austria and, with the involvement of those affected, to create more distributive justice and better chances of realization and thus a good life for everyone.

20. What is poverty research? How do you become a "poverty expert"?

Poverty experts deal with poverty issues from a wide variety of perspectives and with different professional backgrounds: from an economic perspective, with the help of statistical figures and calculations, with a specific gender perspective, from a sociological, socio-political, labor market, philosophical, educational, historical or ethical perspective. Poverty is multifactorial and has a wide variety of causes. Therefore, the approaches to poverty research and the starting points for change are diverse. It is important to have an interdisciplinary approach to the subject of poverty and therefore the cooperation of various professions and fields of activity.

In addition, there are various studies and research fields of their own on the subject of poverty. Poverty experts are mostly located in the university environment or are “experts from practice” because they work in and with social organizations and with people who are affected by poverty and social exclusion.

At the universities in Austria, for example, is poverty research. at the Department of Social Policy at the Vienna University of Economics and Business, at the Institutes for Social Policy at the University of Linz and Vienna, or at the Center for Ethics and Poverty Research at the University of Salzburg. Poverty research is also carried out at political science and sociology institutes and in many other university and non-university research institutions.

A large number of scientists who conduct poverty research in Austria are represented on the Scientific Advisory Board of the Poverty Conference.

21. How could more pressure be put on politics to take the fight against poverty further?

In which more people put pressure and in which there is a stronger public debate on poverty issues. As a poverty conference, we try to promote this debate through media work, lectures, workshops, brochures, studies and a database, but also forum theater performances and flash mobs in public spaces as well as by networking with other civil society organizations. The aim is to involve as many people as possible, to bring them into conversation and to encourage them to get involved and also to put pressure on politicians for a better poverty policy.

Information on how to participate can be found on the Poverty Conference website.

22. What can I personally do to reduce poverty in Austria? Does donation help?

It is important to speak out and work for better poverty reduction and distribution policies.

Donating for meaningful projects also helps, of course, especially as long as it is still needed. And then it is also important to help ensure that debates about abuse, prejudice and shame for people who have experienced poverty have no chance and to work to ensure that everything is done so that everyone has the opportunity for a good life.