Elderly Poverty in Estonia
Estonia, the northernmost Baltic state, is a member of the European Union that was formerly part of the Soviet Union. After gaining independence in 1991, newly recognized Estonia embarked on a series of political and economic reforms. Many now commonly refer to the country as one of the Baltic Tigers alongside Latvia and Lithuania because of its rapid economic growth. Today, Estonia is a developed, high-income country that consistently ranks high in quality of life, education and digitalization. Despite this, Estonia still lacks in other indicators of development. The road to capitalism increased inequalities in Estonian society that did not exist under communism. Citizens lost some of the safety nets they previously had. Elderly poverty in Estonia remains a significant issue that demographic trends and a fragile pension system exacerbate.

The Estonian Pension System

As of December 2020, 41.4% of Estonians over the age of 65 are at risk of poverty, which is one of the highest rates across the European Union. This percentage has significantly increased since 2011 when it stood at 13.1%. When the Estonian government modernized the economy and pension system after independence in 1991, young people benefitted more because they had more time to collect into their pensions. Those approaching old age or already receiving pensions suffered, evident in the high elderly poverty rate today. When people reach retirement age in Estonia, they receive a pension based on the time they spent contributing to the labor force. In addition to this, Estonians can opt into two other pension pillars, one based on their income and one based on voluntary contributions.

  1. State Pension. The first pillar of the pension system is mandatory for all Estonians. It aims to guarantee a standard of living above the absolute poverty line. Social taxes that the government collected fund this pillar. Citizens receive a pension based on the number of years worked.
  2. Wage-based Pension. Estonians can participate in this pillar by contributing 2% of their salary to a pension fund. This pillar used to be mandatory but is voluntary as of 2021.
  3. Supplementary Funded Pension. This pillar, which insurance companies and banks managed, allows people to make extra payments into their pensions.

With the aging population, the number of pensioners is quickly rising, putting pressure on pension sizes. The Estonian population is aging and the number of working-age people is decreasing. The social tax revenue that funds pensions is likely to decline. The media has criticized the reforms that made the second pension pillar voluntary for their potential to destabilize the economy and increase poverty among the elderly.

Gender and Elderly Poverty

Elderly women are especially vulnerable to poverty in Estonia. According to the OECD, 42.8% of women over 65 in Estonia live in relative poverty, compared with 21.4% of their male counterparts. Women also have a much higher life expectancy than men in Estonia. They are living on average 8.4 years longer than men.

This could mean that women often end up widowed and lose their husband’s source of income. This only compounds the financial problems elderly women may already face because of low pensions. 

Looking to the Future

Despite this, the Estonian government has made efforts to combat elderly poverty. Recent reforms adjusted the retirement age to increase every year with the life expectancy. A higher retirement age means people work longer, contributing more to pension funds that Estonia will need in the future. The Estonian government wants to ensure that the pension gap between men and women does not grow. To do that, it is calling for measures to reduce the gender pay gap. The measures include increasing the Labor Inspectorate’s supervision of wages and promoting gender equality curricula in schools.

The government has not yet analyzed the effects of this plan as it extends into 2023. On a supranational level, the European Union proposed legislation in early 2021 that would require companies to report on pay disparities between males and females. The wage gap has dropped from 22.5% in 2013 to 19.7% in 2020 and projects to drop another percentage point by 2023.

To address elderly poverty in Estonia, various organizations are working on regional, national and European levels. The European Anti-Poverty Network has a commitment to eradicating poverty across Europe and placing the fight against poverty and social exclusion at the top of the EU agenda. It has partnered with the Estonian Association of Pensioners (EPUL), which cooperates with government agencies to protect the rights of the elderly.

Its primary activities are advocacy-focused and help bring elderly voices to the forefront of Estonian politics through public events, lectures and lobbying meetings. In 2018, EPUL signed an agreement that formed elderly councils in the Tallinn city government to involve the elderly in decision-making. The organization also gives free legal aid to the elderly and provided 817 hours of free legal help in 2018.

Though the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on elderly poverty in Estonia is not certain. However, trends in the years leading up to 2020 are favorable. The relative poverty rate is slowly decreasing, as is the gender pay gap that affects old-age pensions. With NGO work and strong national policies, Estonia is on its way to alleviating and eradicating poverty among its most vulnerable population, the elderly.

– Emma Tkacz
Photo: Unsplash

EU Energy Poverty
Rising prices for gas and electricity have prompted the EU to appeal to its member countries to subsidize customers and businesses as it deals with the negative impact of its decisions regarding climate. Seeking to deter energy poverty, EU Energy Commissioner Kadri Simon spoke of measures that target select customers at most significant risk of energy poverty with direct payments, cutting energy taxes and shifting energy taxes to general taxation. Simon said to the EU lawmakers that mitigating the social consequences and protecting households most at risk is of 
“immediate priority.” He also suggested that businesses engage in longer-term power purchase agreements while not ruling out the possibility for relief through state aid. Here is some information about energy poverty in Europe as well as programs to alleviate energy poverty.

Energy Poverty in Europe

Energy poverty is prevalent across Europe, where anywhere between 50 and 125 million people cannot afford proper indoor heat, according to a 2009 publication by the EU. Member states have acknowledged the gravity of the issue and its ramifications in health issues and social isolation. Energy poverty marks low household income, high energy costs and inefficient energy houses, where an increase in revenue, management of energy costs and more energy-efficient infrastructure are solutions. Energy poverty affects Sub-Saharan Africa significantly, particularly in the medical sector, with limited time for health care activities and thus increasing risk for patients. Europe is not immune to these issues and should not overlook them, even if the potential scale is not as significant.

EU Plans Backfire and Exacerbates

According to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, behind the rising energy prices afflicting Europe today are the EU’s “Green Deal” policies. President Vladimir Putin of Russia shares the same opinion. The Green Deal initiative aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030 compared to levels seen in 1990, on the way of eliminating emissions by 2050. One of its strategies involved discouraging the usage of long-term purchase agreements for gas, coal and nuclear energy in favor of short-term pricing to deter its use. LTPAs are not sensitive to market prices and are therefore a more cost-effective option than purchasing gas if one is doing it for the long run. This discouragement has left EU member countries scrambling for alternative gas options amid the energy shortage, exacerbating the already low levels of energy poverty.

Programs to Alleviate Energy Poverty

Various projects have developed across Europe with the common aim of ending energy poverty. Horizon 2020 Energy Efficiency voiced themselves in 2018 and granted around 6 million euros to three projects responding to energy poverty: STEP (Solutions to Tackle Energy Poverty), EmpowerMed and Social Watt. STEP, for example, has created a model that includes a call to organizations and consumer groups that specialize in issues affecting those who are energy-poor. It wants to educate energy-poor consumers in nine European countries they have identified as the most energy-poor and share their methods and policies with other EU countries.

STEP

In Lithuania, for example, the Alliance of Lithuanian Consumer Organizations partnered with STEP following inquiries by ALCO into organizations that revealed concerns by consumers regarding energy poverty issues. The Association of Social Workers, an amalgamation of social workers across many organizations, which also happens to be ALCO’s principal partner, received an introduction to the STEP project. This led to several social workers’ interest in receiving the required training to become efficient energy advisors.

EmpowerMed

EmpowerMed, a slightly more nuanced project than STEP, is also addressing energy poverty in Mediterranean coastal areas with a focus on women, gender and health. Its name has an association with numerous publications on energy poverty training, policy and reports. This is part of a constitution of other efforts such as energy workshops, advocacy campaigns that gender-neutral stress policies and energy visits to select households.

Social Watt

Social Watt tasks itself with providing parties exhorted under Article 7 of the Energy Efficiency Directive in Europe to engage with strategies to alleviate energy poverty. Integral and endemic to the function of Social Watts are its features. The Analyzer feature of Social Watts is a downloadable tool that facilitates consumer data observation to identify risk houses. The Plan function identifies optimal solutions that accommodate any nuances in the energy conservation dynamic. The Check tool serves as a verification function to ensure the endeavors of Social Watts are without errors or negative ramifications. 

The ramifications of energy poverty constitute adverse health effects, educational delay, medical impedance and economic disruption. While COVID-19’s economic consequences have exacerbated Europe’s energy poverty, programs to alleviate energy poverty have been able to offer hope to the most vulnerable and, at a minimum, prevent social unrest.

– Mohamed Makalou
Photo: PublicDomainPictures

Working to Empower the Roma 
The Roma represent a previously nomadic group of people who are now scattered throughout Europe. Since their initial migration from India to Europe in the 10th century, the Roma have endured persecution. As a result, an estimated 80% of Roma people located in Europe live in poverty. Fortunately, several organizations are working to empower the Roma people throughout Europe.

How Discrimination Drives Poverty

The Roma have faced discrimination in Europe for centuries — an issue that persists even today. Data from 2016 reveals that, at the time, one out of every four Roma encountered some form of discrimination in the past year. Discrimination often restricts people’s opportunities and limits their capacity to escape poverty. For example, the Roma often struggle to find housing and face forced evictions in countries like Bulgaria and Italy. Thus, advocating against anti-Romani discrimination is imperative to alleviating poverty among the Roma.

3 Organizations Fighting for the Roma

  1. The European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC). Founded in 1996, this Roma-led nonprofit organization advocates for the rights of the Roma people through legal action, policy change and education. The ERRC has brought attention to the failure to protect the rights of the Roma throughout Europe, making the situation a primary political focus. The organization has relayed the urgency of this issue to member states of the European Union as well as candidate countries to ensure it receives attention. Furthermore, the ERRC has taken legal action by initiating more than 500 court cases to hold various governments, organizations and even individuals accountable for any discriminatory or violent actions against the Roma.
  2. European Roma Grassroots Organisations Network (ERGO). This network, established in 2008, is a conglomeration of more than 30 smaller organizations that are working together toward the common goal of addressing anti-Romani discrimination. The network’s main objective is to make policymakers aware of how discrimination against the Roma is responsible for the group’s struggle to achieve equality and inclusion. ERGO endorses improved policies to empower the Roma while launching several public campaigns to raise awareness of the issues plaguing the Roma.
  3. The Roma Support Group (RSG). This organization is a Roma-led, U.K.-based group that supports Roma families by offering them a diverse selection of services, such as homeschooling resources, a guide to COVID-19 prevention and steps to follow to report hate crimes. The RSG intends to better the current situation of these families by helping them conquer obstacles such as discrimination and exclusion. It also advocates for the Roma within the public sphere to raise awareness of the struggles they face. This organization is responsible for various projects including the Financial Inclusion Project in London. This initiative helps alleviate poverty among the Roma by familiarizing them with the welfare system and increasing their financial knowledge.

Moving Forward

For years, the Roma have faced persecution and marginalization across the world. As a result of this discrimination and exclusion, many Roma people have fallen below the poverty line. However, organizations are working to empower the Roma while fighting for their rights to live a life free of discrimination. By supporting organizations that empower and protect the Roma, even an ordinary individual can make a difference in the lives of this marginalized group.

– River Simpson
Photo: Flickr

Elderly Poverty Rate in Romania
The elderly poverty rate in Romania is a challenge to not only the elderly population but also the country itself. Romania’s poverty rates for retired individuals and elders over the age of 65 have increased drastically from an already high level.

The Issue

Romania’s elderly at-risk poverty rate reached a record high of 25.1% in the year 2020, whereas it was previously 14.4% in 2012. Additionally, 24.5% of elderly women in Romania are under the poverty line with a pension, comparable to the record high of 25.7% in 2016 and a record low of 22.1% in 2010. Comparably, males with pensions reached a record high of 18% in 2020 and a record low of 7.9% in 2012.

These statistics present an evident truth; as the years pass in Romania, the elderly poverty rate is quickly rising. This leads poor elders to search for work to make enough money to survive, which they often do not have the qualifications for. In the end, impoverished elders rely on pension payments, which some do not even qualify for, while others struggle to survive below the poverty line.

Romania’s Health Care System

Romania has a dual health care system. Similar to countries such as Australia, it has both a private and a public health care system. However, its system differs from others when it comes to the government’s involvement. Romania’s government spends an average of 4% of the country’s GDP on health care, which is one of the lowest rates in the EU. The government does not fund private healthcare, thus leading those in poverty towards government-funded health care, which has proven to be inadequate. Furthermore, those who do pay for private health care do not always get a better deal. Since the government is uninvolved financially, private hospitals can overcharge patients exorbitant amounts for as little as a consultation.

Also, since the year 2007, about 15,700 Romanian medical experts from both private and government-funded institutions left the country to pursue a better salary in other European countries. With a sub-par salary for Romania’s government-paid doctors (some specialists receive as little as $350 a month), Romanian doctors often resort to bribery, in which they charge patients additional fees for even the simplest consultations.

In terms of the elderly poverty rate in Romania, it is clear that either of the two options for health care in Romania can be costly, and their physical health frequently undergoes neglect. As of 2020, only 23.4% of Romanians over the age of 65 would rate their health conditions as “good” or “very good,” while the EU average is almost double this, at 41.1%. Additionally, 66.7% of these people reported issues with walking, and 51.9% with vision problems, which they cannot treatments for. In comparison, only about 40% of adults over the age of 65 in the United States have a disability.

The Pension Problem

Romania’s pension system is likely to face challenges due to the country’s aging population. Romania is facing a demographic challenge, with a population decline of approximately 25% from 21.4 million in 2008 to approximately 15 million in 2050. Though Romania will most likely face additional challenges as a result of the projected population drop, one major issue could be pensions.

Furthermore, the proportion of elderly people in Romania could reach 29.9% by 2050, subsequently leading to a strain on the pension system. With an aging population, more people will require pensions, putting the government in a dilemma about whether to pay the full amount necessary. As proven with the health care system that the Romanian government provided, the corrupt country will not be eager to allocate so much money to pensions.

Having said that, Romania does have a solid pension system in place, which is based on citizens’ contribution to the economy over a minimum contribution period of 15 years. However, a growing elderly population could cause the country’s pension system to crash according to projections, potentially impacting the elderly poverty rate in Romania.

Lastly, another issue with the Romanian pension system is the fraud that seems to consistently reappear throughout the years. One of the greatest scandals occurred in 2009, in which Romania reported $7.15 million in pension fraud. Resolving an issue like this would require stronger pension security and a potential re-evaluation of the pension granting system.

People Against Poverty

People Against Poverty is an NGO that works in six countries, including Romania, to reduce poverty levels. It has been working to reduce poverty in Romania since 2003 and has hosted a variety of projects, including an Agricultural Project which provides resources for people in Romania who live in rural communities. NGOs like People Against Poverty are extremely important when considering poverty reduction in entire countries, and the implementation of its programs can help in solving Romania’s elderly poverty issue.

Elderly poverty in Romania has been an increasing problem within the past decade, and will likely continue to be one into the future. It remains in the hands of the Romanian government to solve this problem before the elderly population reaches a peak. However, hope exists that the population will regulate itself, or that the economy will open more jobs for impoverished elders. With the help of NGOs like People Against Poverty and the growing economy in Romania, there is certainly hope that the elderly poverty rate will decline over the upcoming years.

– Andra Fofuca
Photo: Unsplash

Sanctions on Belarus
Amid continuing United States (U.S.) and European Union (EU) sanctions on Belarus, border officials reported that four
 people have died on the Poland-Belarus border from hypothermia and exhaustion. Polish authorities have been severely restricting the arrival of immigrants. They have been sending people back from the border, leading many to camp out in the dense forests bordering Belarus.

Lukashenko: Reason for the Sanctions

The EU and the U.S. placed numerous economic sanctions on Belarus in response to Belarus President Lukashenko’s threatening political tactics. Lukashenko’s administration grounded a Ryanair flight containing a prominent activist from the opposition and detained numerous journalists critiquing Lukashenko. The Belarus government arrested 35,000 protesters and is holding 626 dissidents as political prisoners. These actions underline a long-term trend that Lukashenko’s actions violate key democratic ideals, as well as implications that he is unfit for leadership or that he won his 2020 election on fraudulent grounds.

Poland’s national government has also indicated that Lukashenko’s administration is responsible for flying in Middle Eastern refugees and pushing them to attempt illegally crossing the Poland-Belarus border. There have been 8,000 attempts during 2021, more than 3,500 attempts in August 2021 and more than 4,000 attempts in the first three weeks of September 2021. Polish authorities do not have enough resources to handle this influx and the over 1,400 in Polish detention centers. In response to these actions, Poland’s permanent representative at the EU, Andrzej Sados, has indicated Poland’s support for heightened sanctions. 

Sanctions’ Heavy Burden on Belarus

Sanctions on Belarus include rigid restrictions on military and surveillance technology, potassium-based fertilizer and petrol/petrol-based products. Bilateral trade between the EU and Belarus increased by 45% in the last 10 years, with 18.1% of Belarus’s goods trade stemming from the EU. Almost 25% of these exports were petroleum or potassium-based fertilizer so sanctions on these items put a heavy burden on the economy.

The U.S. and the EU also sanctioned Belarus’ cigarette industry that contributes significantly to European cigarette smuggling.  For example, over 90% of the cigarettes smuggled into Lithuania in 2020 came from Belarus.

Thirdly, the U.S. EU sanctions on Belarus include sanctions on politically active business leaders and sports entities. Canada joined the U.S. and the EU to sanction oligarch Nikolai Vorobei. The U.S. sanctioned the Belarus National Olympic Committee because Lukashenko’s son controls it.

Sanctions Threaten Belarus’ Success Combatting Poverty

With an economy so dependent on state-owned agricultural or industrial companies and their exports to the rest of Europe, the remarkable progress Belarus has made in lowering its poverty rate is at risk. Between 2000 and 2013, the poverty rate in Belarus fell by 60%. Economists have warned for the last decade that Belarus’ economy depends far too much on the exportation of a few goods. Further, the drop in poverty has not correlated with a rise in living standards. Lastly, the Belarusian rouble has also fallen by more than 30% against the euro since the beginning of 2021. 

The sanctions threaten Belarus’ economic gains, along with Belarus’ dependence on Russia, its largest trading partner. The loss of Russia’s oil and gas subsidies could devastate Belarus.

New Government, New Tech Sector, New Hope

The U.S. and EU sanctions, Lukashenko’s suppression of dissent, the border deaths and Russia’s stranglehold each jeopardize Belarus’ future. A change of leadership is the first step toward positive change. As Klaus-Jürgen Gern from the Kiel Institute for the World Economy said, “But without change, the economy will probably stagnate and decline in relative terms over the next decade because the incentives — like modernization and new investment — won’t be in place.”

Also, a new technology sector is emerging in Minsk. There are more than 450 new tech startups that are not beholden to Moscow. This is a glimmer of hope for Belarus to modernize and relieve itself from harsh leadership and crippling sanctions.

– Shruti Patankar
Photo: Flickr

Romania Battles Recent Diseases
Romania is a beautiful country with rich culture and colorful nature. Romania maintains its traditional folklife with a clash of modernism. If one visited Romania, saw pictures or even watched a documentary, one would see the old and new structural buildings with sheep and cows plaguing the streets. Although thriving, many still consider the country an economically developing nation, with many aspects needing assistance. Currently, Romania is concerned with these recent diseases: the Coronavirus and measles. Diseases in Romania may not always be treatable, but vaccines can make them preventable. 

Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19)

Across the globe, the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted every country. However, it has disproportionately affected those in developing countries like Romania. On February 26, 2020, the first case of COVID-19 received confirmation. Soon after, the coronavirus disease became one of the many diseases in Romania. Romania did not have a stable healthcare system. It did not have the proper resources such as medical equipment, supplies, personnel and let alone enough medical establishments to aid those in more rural areas.

According to The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) data graph, Romania appears to face continuously increased spikes of daily infections. The projection estimated for hospital resource use, both beds needed and intensive care units would increase and be in high demand by October 18, 2021. Currently, 27% of Romania’s population has received two vaccinations, compared to 54% in the U.S. Many expect that Romania will stay at 27% while the U.S.’ vaccination percentage continues to grow. Due to the severity of the situation, Romanian authorities took action to spread a national campaign through media channels such as social media and television news to more spaced-out areas in Romania.

Measles

Measles is an infectious disease that affects the respiratory system yet may come across as simple flu. The contagious disease can spread through sneezing and coughing and it is not easy to detect. Many of the diseases in Romania are not curable or treatable but people can prevent them through vaccines and proper methods of prevention. Based on the article, “Measles Epidemics in Romania: Lessons for Public Health and Future Policy” by Stefan Dascalu, measles is the main leading cause of child deaths in Romania. This preventable disease led to the deaths of children, younger than 5 years of age. Although the cases of measles decreased from 1982, it is still endemic.

There are actually two doses of the measles vaccine, which are MCV1 and MCV2. Records and expectations stated that the vaccine coverage would be greater than 95% during the 2000s era. However, in the year 2010, a decreased trend of coverage appeared. By 2014, the trend declined to 89% of coverage only with those receiving the first dose. Unfortunately, the trend will likely continue to decline. In 2016, the most recent outbreak occurred where there were cases that exceed the number of 15,500. Additionally,  the death rates reached 59 individuals who died as a result of measles by the year 2018. The high rates of deaths could be due to many components: the lack of vaccination coverage distributed to areas of the countryside, lack of adequate supplies and the lack of parents’ understanding/ education to vaccinate their children.

Improvements that Leads to Solutions

According to the article, “Romania: Thriving cities, rural poverty, and a trust deficit” by Donato De Rosa and Yeon Soo Kim, Romania has both an urban side and a rural side. Bucharest is an example of Romania’s part that is thriving as a city with a contemporary and profitable system. However, some smaller villages are in the past. As many consider Romania to be an underdeveloped country, it does not have certain advantages like the United States. For instance, Romania faces poverty that has resulted in the lack of a proper health care system and resources for residents in rural areas. Providing foreign aid is a key component to allow these countries to gain stability. Becoming stable will likely help these countries alleviate poverty. This in turn will help economically and strengthen bonds with the other nations.

Member of the European Union

As the World Bank stated in the “Golden Growth: Restoring the Lustre of the European Economic Model,” the European Union (EU) has a goal to converge developing countries for improvement and also for economic benefits. In 2001, the EU integrated Romania as part of its “Golden Growth” model. The EU developed The Golden Growth model for economic convergence, in sections such as trade, finance, enterprise, innovation, labor and government.

There were significant reforms that took place in Romania as a result of the growth model. Reforms included a transition from labor-based and low technology methods to more advanced use of machinery and electronic tools. Between 2014 and 2020, Romania received 17.6 billion euros in investments to improve the nation’s poor infrastructure. The EU’s aid positively impacted Romania’s degree of efficiency and way of life. In turn, this led to Romania’s population decreasing “from 22.8 to 19.6 million since 2000, and is expected to keep falling.” This is a great indication of Romania’s improvement since more children are surviving and thus parents are having fewer children. Still, it is essential to implement better public health programs. Foreign aid to provide supplies to the population and improved education on the importance of immunization for low-income communities can also significantly boost Romania from extreme poverty.

Foreign Aid

Although the diseases in Romania appeared to be dire, the county is not alone in facing these challenges. As a member of the EU since 2007, Romania has received assistance from fellow nations for resources. Romanian authorities’ response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) was moderately swift, but it did not live up to its full potential due to the lack of medical supplies, equipment, and knowledge about the disease.

When the next outbreak struck, the country was better able to respond with the proper procedures and knowledge in place. In regards to measles, Romanian medical practitioners are developing strategies to spread the information on vaccines to poorer communities. These strategies range from advertisements to campaigns carried out on flyers. Romania has certainly come a long way from the original state of poverty. Overall, providing more foreign aid is a key component in forming stability in these countries. The U.S. does currently assist Romania but needs to do more with the assets it has.

– Jenny Liang
Photo: Unsplash

COVID-19's Impact on Women and Poverty in CroatiaThe Republic of Croatia is a country located in Central and Southeast Europe, bordering Serbia, Hungary, Slovenia and Montenegro. Since proclaiming independence in 1991, the country introduced policies, programs and reforms to improve the quality of life of its citizens. But, COVID-19’s impact on women and poverty in Croatia has had serious consequences for the country.

COVID-19 and Unemployment

COVID-19 devastated many countries in a social, political and economic areas. However, Croatia was particularly hit hard. Starting in 2008, the country experienced a global financial crisis that had tremendous consequences. The European Commission Autumn Economic published a report estimating a recession of approximately 9.6% GDP in 2020, nearly 7% worse than the previous year. The main reasons behind the decrease are the fall in the tourism sector, domestic consumption and eradication of exports. In addition, registered unemployment skyrocketed by 21.3% during the first year of the pandemic.

Poverty in Croatia also increased after two earthquakes in 2020 negatively impacted Croatia’s pandemic and health crisis management. In response, the European Union deployed resources for the recovery of all the member countries, especially those who also suffered natural disasters during the pandemic.

Despite this bleak outlook, an analysis by The Ministry of Finance argues for an “optimistic growth of 5%” in 2021, provided Croatia sees an increase in domestic demand and continues receiving recovery funds from the European Union.

Women and Poverty in Croatia

According to a report by the World Bank, COVID-19 is not the only factor pushing women towards poverty. Undoubtedly, women are more likely to be employed in the informal, low-skilled and part-time jobs that were hardest hit by the pandemic. In many cases, these jobs disappeared and women suffered income loss. In addition, women who lost their jobs or work at home are less likely to be guaranteed social security and health coverage by the emergency packages created since the outbreak of COVID-19. For this reason, COVID-19’s impact on women and poverty in Croatia has been severe.

Both the European Union and the World Bank are aware of the many barriers women have to overcome. In response, they created several policies to find a solution. Some of the policies include providing equal access to the labor market for all women and removing any barriers to women’s employability.

The Government Response

Croatian authorities have become aware of the extreme need to reduce poverty in Croatia, especially for women. In 2019, authorities passed a National Action Plan for Women, Peace, and Security (NAP) to be carried out until 2023. This plan aims to prevent, protect and guarantee women’s rights in the country. The policy seeks to ensure that every woman has access to education, public health and active participation in the labor market.

The NAP prioritizes nine objectives to aid in prevention, participation, protection and implementation. Among these objectives are an increase in women’s role in decision-making processes and the promotion of women’s rights in conflict settings. The NAP works on the back of previous legislation that aimed to increase women’s participation in higher education. For example, women represented 59.9% of university graduates from 2015 to 2018. The same period saw a 4% increase in women in human resources and a 2% increase in female professors.

To support women’s employment, authorities introduced legislation to improve family life through maternity and parental benefits.  For example, the Ministry of Demography, Family, Youth and Social Policy (MDFYSP) supports projects such as lengthening daycare operations, creating alternative education programs and providing children with meals. By supporting scholarships and child care, parents have more time to dedicate to their professional careers.

Hope for the Future

In conclusion, COVID-19 drastically affected Croatia in many ways. In particular, women suffered heavy damage from the health crisis. But, the international community and the Croatian authorities stepped in to design programs and resources for the eradication of poverty. Which, if the data is any indication, has promising results for the future of poverty in Croatia.

– Cristina Alverez
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in ItalyHuman trafficking is not an issue that occurs in just a single country or region of the world. Rather, it is a global dilemma requiring a global solution. However, human trafficking rates vary per country. Human trafficking in Italy represents an issue affecting other European nations as well.

Human Trafficking in Numbers

As of 2018, Italy ranked in the top five EU Member States with the highest number of registered trafficking victims. Italy also tied fourth for the highest percentage of sexually trafficked people at 82%. The other EU countries with similar statistics include Greece, Czechia and Hungary. In comparison, EU states like Sweden and Croatia have rates of 24% and 28% respectively.

Basics of Human Trafficking in Italy

Unaccompanied, young migrants seeking asylum are particularly vulnerable to human trafficking in Italy. Italy’s government reported at least 1,660 victims of trafficking, with many other victims unaccounted for. Save the Children points out the concerning increase in children and minors affected by trafficking, which increased from 9% to 13% within a single year. Many of these children end up contributing to underground labor, which fuels the Italian economy.

The risk factor for other workers falling victim to forced labor and labor trafficking in Italy feeds to these statistics. The United States Department of State found that, in 2020, roughly 3.7 million irregular workers and 1.5 million unregistered workers were at potential risk of labor-related trafficking.

Preventing Human Trafficking in Italy

The U.S. Department of State classifies Italy as a Tier 2 country. This means that the Italian government has participated in some efforts to combat human trafficking but still has work to do. For example, the country has demonstrated greater cooperation with international policies and laws against human trafficking. It has also prioritized additional fundraising to support victims of trafficking and places more emphasis on training Italian law enforcement to address trafficking.

In addition, many global groups such as the Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) have worked hard to hold countries like Italy accountable for strengthening their policies. GRETA has noted decent progress on the issue of human trafficking in Italy. GRETA monitors human trafficking as the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings stipulates.

The Council maintains a human rights treaty among European Nations and the Council of Europe to reach an overarching goal of assisting and protecting trafficked human beings. GRETA thus performs legislative evaluations to ensure countries meet these goals and provides comprehensive reports and guidelines on combatting trafficking and prosecuting identified traffickers.

GRETA has acknowledged the progress in combating human trafficking in Italy as recently as 2019. The Italian government increased its funding for anti-trafficking projects, which has gone toward safeguarding protections for unaccompanied children who have fallen victim to human trafficking in Italy.

Challenges in Combatting Human Trafficking in Italy

The U.S. Department of State has noted that Italy still has not reached the “minimum standards” necessary to adequately and fully combat trafficking. As a result, the U.S. government has kept Italy at a Tier 2 status. Italy is not meeting the standards due to a decrease in trafficking investigations and prosecutions. The Italian Ministry of Interior reported only 135 trafficking investigations, which is a substantial decrease from 314 persons in 2018 and 482 persons in 2017. The government also does not have a consistent database for consolidated information about trafficking investigations, convictions or prosecutions. This adds to the difficulty of monitoring and assessment efforts.

Hope for the Future

Nevertheless, hope still exists in the fight against human trafficking in Italy. The U.S. government noted improvement in Italy’s 2020 trafficking report, acknowledging the measures the country implemented, even though there is still room for improvement. For example, improvements have emerged in victim assistance and increased funding for victims and victim’s rights groups. Funding has also gone toward NGOs advocating for trafficking rights, which GRETA specifically acknowledges as a step toward overall improvement in policies. With these efforts, Italy can reduce incidents of human trafficking in the country,

– Rebecca Fontana
Photo: Flickr

European Social Fund PlusIn June 2021, the European Parliament authorized the new Social Fund Plus program, which will aid youth and those at high risk of living in poverty. The European Social Fund Plus (ESF+) combines the former European Social Fund, the Youth Employment Initiative, the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived and the E.U. Program for Employment and Social Innovation.

The ESF+ will be the primary tool to improve the future of Europe. This means addressing all consequences caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, improving employee incomes, strengthening social welfare programs and creating a qualified and adaptable workforce.

Funds and Support

The European Social Fund Plus has a budget of approximately €88 billion to spend between 2021 and 2027. The finances will go to areas of key priority, including:

  • Employment opportunities for youth.
  • Affordable education, healthcare and housing for children.
  • Recovery of socioeconomic consequences caused by COVID-19.
  • Promote social inclusion to marginalized groups.
  • A guarantee that E.U.-funded initiatives will take place.

Empowering Youth and the Most Deprived

The European Parliament increased funds to ensure workforce participation for young people and to provide alleviation of child poverty, targeting two categories of citizens who the COVID-19 pandemic extremely affected. Member states will commit around 12.5% of their ESF+ budgets to assist youth by developing their skills and finding proper employment. Member states will also allocate funds to support children in jeopardy of poverty and social exclusion by ensuring fair access to daycare, schooling, health services and safe housing for all children. Every member state must contribute to the fight against child poverty.

Along with supporting disadvantaged youth, member states will invest a minimum of 25% of their resources to initiatives promoting equal rights for marginalized groups. This will aid in lowering workforce obstacles, combating social injustices and addressing health disparities.

In addition to the quarter of resources spent on fighting discrimination, member states will contribute at least 3% of the finances to necessities including water, food, clothing and shelter. This will counter global poverty that inherently leads to social isolation.

Main Goals of the ESF+

Overall, the European Parliament has created a budget to help the world’s poor, which gives the population a fighting chance to secure proper employment, adequate education and housing and social equality. Outlined are the main goals of the European Social Fund Plus:

  • Safeguard those who are most vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19.
  • Tackle poverty and inequality through youth empowerment.
  • Create policies that invest in individuals and communities through social values.
  • Illustrate to the world how nations can positively impact the lives of their citizens.

The budget that the European Parliament has created will be appropriate for present circumstances and future uncertainties. Through the European Social Fund Plus, citizens will be able to reshape a more diverse, inclusive and resilient European Union.

– Anna Lovelace
Photo: Unsplash 

NextGenerationEU programThe COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light how nations must be prepared for the most unexpected crises. Countries all over the world have conjured up ideas of recovery plans to help restore and improve the world. One country to look at as a model for the rest of the world is Italy. Specifically, the Italian government has formed ENEA Tech as a Foundation that will invest in new technology and generate jobs in order to jumpstart the economy. Through this Foundation, the NextGenerationEU program formed. The NextGenerationEU program has an approximate budget of €800 billion and will be a temporary tool to aid the recovery of economic and social consequences that COVID-19 caused. This will help Italy heal from the pandemic while changing the lives of Italian citizens and providing them with new opportunities.

The Main Elements

The extraordinary effort will contribute to the recovery of socioeconomic losses that the COVID-19 pandemic inflicted. It will also allow for the transition to a more efficient and sustainable Italy. More than 50% of the funding will go toward research and technology innovations, sustainable environmental and cultural reforms while providing planning and protection within the European Union. Additionally, 30% of the budget will address other issues including climate change, environmental conservation and gender equality. Meanwhile, 20% of the financial resources will support the digitalization of the economy and other technological innovations. Finally, between the years 2026 and 2027, 10% of the yearly investment will go toward preventing and repairing biodiversity degradation. The funding will undergo investment and dispersal to Italy and other European Union countries. Recipients will obtain resources in the form of grants and loans.

The Benefits

Through the NextGenerationEU program, Italy and other European countries will become more sustainable, digitized, healthy and diverse. In addition to the previous investments, the many benefits of the program’s efforts include:

  • Investing in “green” technology, which will introduce more environmentally friendly means of transportation and make infrastructures and public areas more energy efficient.
  • Protecting the environment through conserving water, minimizing pollution, using more sources of renewable energy and improving agricultural practices.
  • Making the internet more accessible and affordable, meaning user data and electronic commerce will have more secure protection. The E.U. will also finance online education training to help people improve their digital abilities.
  • Combatting health concerns by creating new vaccines and treatments, increasing access to medical supplies and investing in professional healthcare training.
  • Creating more opportunities for internships and higher education while allocating more funds to loans and scholarships.
  • Increasing job opportunities for people with disabilities and people living in impoverished communities.
  • Fighting racism and xenophobia and supporting gender equality to honor diversity in all of its expressions.

The Next Steps

The European Commission and the European Parliament have made significant measures to ensure that authority leaders prioritize financial support and seek assistance through various NextGenerationEU mechanisms. Although the NextGenerationEU program is coming to fruition, individuals must continue to urge their respective national government leaders to help in developing and enacting recovery programs.

– Anna Lovelace
Photo: Unsplash