The picture of poverty across Europe is looking bleak at present. Around 85 million people in the European Union are estimated to live in poverty and this has risen and is rising due to the economic crisis. A "Citizens Agora" at the European Parliament in Brussels on 27-28 January brought together lawmakers, NGOs and people over 60 facing poverty to discuss the issues and what can be done about them. A slideshow of photos on the right tries to capture some of the atmosphere.
(For a full report on the Agora see the two press releases and the EuroparlTV piece in the links below this article).
The Agora conference was opened by Parliament's President Jerzy Buzek and the European Commissioner for Employment László Andor. It was divided into three main working groups:
The economic and financial crisis and new forms of poverty;
The impact of the economic and financial crises on migration flows and integration processes;
Access to a decent and sustainable way of life for persons in situation of precariousness.
Rising poverty - especially during the financial crisis - and the growing isolation and marginalisation of some groups in society were deemed particularly worrying and are some of the most serious problems the EU faces today according to participants.
The impact of all EU policies on the most vulnerable should be addressed as should the principle that people should be at the heart of all policies was another key finding.
Belgian Green MEP Isabelle Durant (who co-chaired the Agora) said in the press conference that "in the workshops there has been a lot of anger - not against us but in the way poverty has been dealt with - Europe has done a lot for economy but not enough to protect the most vulnerable parts of society".
Czech MEP Libor Rouček (Socialists and Democrats) also co-chaired the Agora and said that "the core message is that while fixing our financial system we cannot forget our social model".
Consensus Conference on the over 60's
Alongside the Agora there was a special "Consensus Conference" which looked at ways in which one particularly vulnerable group - the over 60's facing financial hardship - could cope.
Chaired by Belgian MEP Isabelle Durant it brought together 20 people from different European countries to talk about their experiences. They also discussed ways in which the Europe Union could help them.
One of the main recommendations of the groups was that pensions should be indexed to the standard of living and should be free from taxation. In addition they want the a change in the culture in the way elderly people are treated so they are encouraged to be full members of society rather than closed off and isolated.
The group also thought that easier and cheaper access to technology such as telephone calls and internet access could help older people both financially and in terms of making they feel included in society. Adapting tools for older people was also considered important.