European Parliament report underestimates problem of women in poverty

2 October 2005

European Parliament report underestimates problem of women in poverty

In October the European Parliament will vote on the report on “Women and Poverty in Europe”. Although this report was written by the Chair of the Committee on Women's Rights, the situation of women is still not fully appreciated. SP Euro-MP Kartika Liotard said: “Women continue to run a far greater risk of finding themselves in poverty, but this fact is not mentioned in the report.”

The report does not state that women have a greater chance than do men of falling into poverty and for this reason Ms Liotard is seeking changes. Women run a far greater risk of being in poverty and this inequality is reinforced by the legal, cultural, social and economic conditions in our societies.

These conditions particularly affect older women, divorced women, single mothers and women from marginalised population groups such as immigrants. Again it is in particular older women from immigrant communities who suffer the greatest risk.

The increased chance of poverty is caused by a whole range of factors relating to work and income as well as by the socio-cultural position of women, their traditional roles, their lack of employment rights, inadequate child care facilities and so on. .

The vote on this report is, Liotard says, the perfect moment to bring attention to these high risk groups and the factors which make them such. It is therefore imperative that the report expose the situation and exert pressure on behalf of these women's rights. At the moment the women are still far too often held responsible for their own plight, as if they had created their own poverty, yet there is more than enough evidence to show that it is above all social structures and conditions which are to blame. The state authorities must also be held responsible and poverty amongst women combated where it is created.

Society is failing older immigrant women

The structure of our pension systems continues to reflect a time when the assumption was that the man was the breadwinner and the woman kept house. In our own country the state has done a great deal to improve pensions for women, but many remain outside the loop. First generation immigrant women, for example, have never had the chance to build up pension rights and many of them are forced to survive on an income below the poverty line.

This is most true of non-western first generation immigrant women, large numbers of whom live in poverty or under the constant threat of falling into poverty. In the Netherlands in 2003, around 7000 Moroccan immigrants were receiving state pensions. Only six of them, amongst whom only one was a woman, got the full amount. Of almost 8000 retired Turkish migrants who had accumulated pension rights, only eleven people, five of them women, were receiving a full pension. State pensions can, as this shows, offer some meagre solace, but even this is unavailable to most. This situation is reproduced in other EU member states which have seen high rates of inward migration since the war.

One of the most important reasons why immigrants lack the right to a full pension is that they reach pensionable age before they have lived in the Netherlands for fifty years. For every year between the ages of 15 and 65 that they were not in the country, their pension rights are diminished by 2%. Women from these groups have, moreover, rarely pursued a real career, in many cases because they have never had the necessary education and training, because of discrimination in the labour market and/or because they have worked in the home as housewives and mothers.

If the state does not take it upon itself to increase their pensions, as well as their opportunities to participate in the labour market, the situation of these women can only deteriorate. By 2015 90% of older non-western immigrants in the Netherlands will be in need of social security-based financial support in order to reach the minimum income. According to the Netherlands Institute for Statistics we can expect a tripling of the number of older non-western immigrant women, and by 2050 their numbers to have quadrupled. The group most threatened by poverty is therefore set to grow ever larger.

The Socialist Party delegation in the European Parliament will be represented in September at the conference in Amsterdam of AGE+ (Age+Gender+Ethinicity), an organisation concerned with the rights and wellbeing of older women from ethnic minorities. Also attending will be organisations of older people, women's groups and immigrant associations. AGE+ intends to use the conference to make public the results of its recent research, the conclusions of which indicate that the situation is appalling. .

That helping immigrant women escape from poverty should not be left to interest groups is another conclusion of the AGE+ research. The problem in all its aspects should be put high on the political agenda. That is why Kartika Liotard will be using the opportunity presented by the debate on the European Parliamentary Report on “Women and poverty” to issue an urgent call to the European Parliament to act to improve the situation of older women from ethnic minorities.

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