The Poverty Watch report was picked up by a number of media outlets. “It is a sad Czech unique,” wrote Hospodářské noviny, for example.
“Social deprivation caused by living in poverty has an impact on physical and mental health,” points out the report written by the Czech branch of the EAPN initiative (European Anti-Poverty Network). According to her, approximately 660,000 people have fallen into a debt trap and are facing foreclosures. Over a million people suffer from housing shortages or are at risk of losing their housing or expensive rents. 13 percent of households suffer from income poverty.
In one sentence: “In the Czech Republic, about a million people live on the poverty line, but at the same time, a large number of people are also just above this line,” said the Poverty Watch report, explaining that a significant number of people fell into difficulties during covid and after the increase in energy prices. EAPN chairman Karel Švarc specified at the press conference that the “large amount” is “according to estimates, up to two million people”.
Czech Radio emphasized the seriousness of the situation: “An incredible 30 percent of people in this country not only cannot save anything for old age, but they cannot even be sure that they will wake up in their own bed the next day,” he broadcast in a press briefing.
Worries of Professor Badelt
Still, academic experts are reluctant to comment on the report, usually on the grounds that the anti-poverty initiative misinterprets sources whose value sometimes cannot even be verified. In addition, her information contradicts the thorough investigation that the Czech Statistical Office is conducting on behalf of Eurostat.
Some of the experts refer to a study by the rector of the Vienna University of Economics, Christoph Badelt, who was faced with a similar report by Amnesty International, according to which Austria is not fighting poverty sufficiently and leaves 316,000 children to starve.
Professor Badelt explained that the misunderstanding was caused by the very definition of poverty. In developed countries, poverty is determined relatively, in relation to the usual standard of living. If the household’s income is below 60 percent of the median (the median is the level of income reached by half of the families), then the household is at risk of so-called income poverty. According to Eurostat, this applies to 10.2 percent of Czechs, i.e. more than a million.
However, according to Badelt, these people cannot be described as poor, because the definition only speaks of “threatened”. In addition, such “poverty” cannot be fought, because even in the most prosperous society, someone will remain below 60 percent of the median, the rector stated in the Presse newspaper.
Even Eurostat is aware of the confusion with “income poverty”, which is why it created the definition of “threat of poverty and social exclusion”, where, in addition to low income, it also monitors “material and social deprivation” (affects 4.8 percent of Czechs) and “low work intensity” ( 4.5 percent). In total, according to the broader definition, 11.8 percent of Czechs are at risk of poverty.
Nevertheless, Professor Badelt is not satisfied with this approach either. After all, traditionally, people who do not have enough money for food or heating are considered poor, he recalled. The impossibility of heating sufficiently or having meat for lunch every other day belongs to the thirteen criteria of “severe material and social deprivation” established by Eurostat. Individuals who are disadvantaged in seven of these cases are therefore truly poor – assuming, of course, that they describe their condition realistically.
However, there are 211,000 such people in the Czech Republic, i.e. a little over two percent of the population. Out of the thirteen criteria, the Czechs fared the worst in the impossibility of purchasing new furniture (27 percent), where they found themselves above the European average. Eighteen percent cannot afford a week’s vacation away from home or pay an unexpected expense of 13,600 crowns.
The best in Europe
From the point of view of activists or politicians who have focused their interest on helping the poor, such results are unfortunate in a way, because they cast doubt on their efforts. According to Eurostat, the Czech Republic is among the five European countries where people suffer from “serious material and social deprivation” the least, since at most one in fifty citizens have difficulties. The risk of income poverty and social exclusion traditionally threatens the Czech Republic the least of all.
Map of municipalities. Where do socially excluded people live?
In more than a third of municipalities, the situation regarding social exclusion has worsened in three years, less than a third show improvement and a third show neither improvement nor decline, the data show.
The authors of the Poverty Watch report, however, distinguish themselves against Eurostat. According to them, for example, statistics that would compare the income of local households with the median income in the whole of Europe would be more reliable. “The problem with the definition of poverty according to Eurostat is that the median income is generally low in the Czech Republic,” they point out. If European statisticians followed the EAPN proposal, 1.8 million Czech residents would be at risk of poverty.
Professor Badelt does not deny the need to fight the dangers of poverty. The truly poor need to be helped with benefits, but prevention is more important for those households that could be affected by poverty. Above all, to provide them with better access to education and healthcare, as well as a better job offer. But if the government’s strategy relies on inaccurately interpreted statistics on how many people have already fallen into poverty and extends its aid to households that don’t need it at all, “then those statistics will lead it to a dead end.”
As Daniel Prokop from the research agency PAQ Research pointed out in the domestic case, the local social system also faces exactly such a risk. “A large number of people are already entitled to housing allowance. I would also be in favor of limiting the group that is entitled to it. Today, that group is wide,” he described in ČT one of the examples of a bad system setup. And he recommended targeting aid to really low-income families.