Zeroing in on poverty in Europe

Fr Erny Gillen, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, and Rafael del Rio Sendino, President of Caritas Spain at the European Congress on Poverty and Social Exclusion. Credit Nicholson/Caritas

By Patrick Nicholson, Madrid

“Works not words are what matters,” said Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga at the recent European Congress on Poverty and Social Exclusion in Madrid. “Works are love.”

The Caritas Internationalis President urged delegates at the meeting in his keynote address to look beyond the statistics of poverty and to find the human face.

“We have proposed actions to be taken by governments to reduce poverty. It is a starting off point. Salvation is not going to come from economic theory but by returning to what is essential. We must return to human dignity and tackle the scandal of poverty,” he said.

Poverty in Europe is on the rise with Caritas members who provide social services in countries like Spain and Italy reporting a greater demand for their help. There is now a wide swath of people vulnerable to poverty and over the last tens years the figure has gone up.

“The figure of poor is now 85 million people, with children and vulnerable groups particularly affected,” said Rafael del Rio Sendino, President of Caritas Spain, as he urged Europe to follow policies which reflect fundamental principles of human dignity and social inclusion.

Caritas European members set out a series of anti-poverty targets for European politicians to turn into policies to reduce poverty on the continent by 25 million people over the next ten years.

* Reduce the number of people living below the national poverty lines by 30%
* Eradicate child poverty in Europe
* Decisively improve education and training
* Focus on specific groups at risk of exclusion
* Ensure Policy Coherence for Development
* Achieve a substantial impact on climate change
* Strongly improve the governance aspect of Europe 2020

“The European Union does not only need an economic and political integration process,” said Robert Urbé of Caritas Luxembourg, as he outlined the steps Caritas hopes will be taken. “It needs a social integration process too.”

The proposals range from guaranteeing a basic income, sufficient social housing, guaranteeing child allowances, and going beyond its existing climate change targets.

“Poverty is a scandal,” said Mr Urbé. “We need a new culture of solidarirty, co-responsibility, social justice, fighting against poverty, empowerment, and social participation.

Antonia Carparelli, from the European Commission , said the Caritas Europe proposal to cut poverty by 30 percent was overly ambitious but said the issues were very close to the heart of the EC and there has been lots of activity on child poverty. Ultimately, she said, it was member states to act.

The meeting looked beyond the borders of Europe with a session chaired by Caritas Internationalis Secretary General Lesley-Anne Knight.

Zemede Abebe Zewdie of caritas Ethiopia, George Lim of Caritas Singapore, Candy Hill of Catholic Charities USA (a Caritas member), and Cristina dos Anjos of Caritas Brazil spoke about poverty in their countries.
“If we could imagine the building of a really great project for the 21st Century,” said Lesley-Anne Knight, “ “Wouldn’t it be to propose a world with zero poverty.”

Newly re-elected Caritas Europa President Fr Erny Gillen closed the conference by urging everyone to sign the Zero Poverty petition online.

As well as re-elect Fr Erny Gillen, European Caritas members confirmed Jorge Nuño Mayer as the next Secretary General of Caritas Europa.

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Filed under Advocacy, Development, Europe, Poverty Elimination

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