In-work poverty: a growing social problem

The ETUC’s #ourpayrise campaign is highlighting the unacceptably low wages being imposed on workers across Europe, since the economic crisis took hold in 2008.

A newly published study by Eurofound, the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, shows how increasing in-work poverty is not only causing physical hardship but also damaging family relationships and leading to mental health problems.

By 2014, no less than 10% of European workers were at risk of poverty, disproving the familiar government claim that a job automatically lifts people out of hardship. Crisis and austerity have left 13% of workers materially deprived. The number is too large to be ignored.

In-work poverty forces people into poor quality housing with accompanying health risks, and blights children’s chances of a better future. Materially deprived workers more frequently report crime, violence or vandalism in their immediate environment, as well as pollution and noise. Sometimes the working poor are even worse off in this regard than unemployed people, who have the benefit of housing allowances.

Eurofound Research Manager Daphne Ahrendt points out that one outcome of the crisis has been an increase in mental health problems: the working poor are more likely to suffer than the working population in general. Stress and tension affected 22% of the materially deprived while 12% felt lonely or downhearted and depressed, around twice the proportion in the overall working-age population.