Hello, and welcome to Crossborder. Nearly 80 million people in the EU live below the poverty line. That's 17% of the total EU population. In response the EU has declared this year as the European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion. Statistics indicate that women are more likely than men to be poor because of difficulties related to employment and childcare. But what can the European Union do to help women in Europe? How can it help to improve access to housing and healthcare for women? To discuss I have with me Edit Bauer, a Slovak MEP in the EPP, former undersecretary of state for Employment, Social and Family Affairs Raül Romeva i Rueda, an MEP from the Spanish Greens who is working on a report on the different impact of the economic crisis on men's and women's employment; Mary Collins, from the European Women's Lobby, an expert on women in poverty. WHAT IS POVERTY? There are several definitions of poverty that researchers use. For example, according to Eurostat, more than a third of Europeans can't afford a week's holiday away from home. Then 10% of people in the EU can't heat their homes adequately. So I will ask you first, what is your definition of poverty? Edit Bauer. To draw a concrete example, it seems to me that extreme poverty is really when you have no food for your children and you have no roof over your head. It seems to me that this is really the extreme form of poverty. But we are facing a much wider concept of poverty when people are excluded from the mainstream social processes, because they cannot afford to go to the theatre, to give their children a good education, and so on. Mr Romero, do you agree? What is your view? Mostly. I think poverty has very much to do with two concepts - vulnerability, on the one hand, and social exclusion. It is only part of this that has to do with personal individual income. You might have a good personal individual income, but if you are excluded from the social services, from the ability to provide for your main necessities, you might be in the frame that we consider to be the poverty sphere. Mary Collins. - I certainly agree that it's much more than income. It's about participation, living a dignified life, and it's also about having access to economic power, as well as resources. There's also a structural dimension. We can, in our society today, tackle all the dimensions of poverty to make sure that every woman, man and child has a place in society. SINGLE MOTHERS First let's talk about the issue of single parents. Women living alone with children are especially vulnerable. According to Eurostat, in 2005, some 32% of lone parents had an income which placed them at risk of poverty. Almost all of them were women. We have been to Hungary to see how the crisis has affected single mothers. In EU countries, the poverty line is set at 60% of the national median income. In Hungary this represents 414 euros per month for a family of two adults and two children. Andrea lives in Szentistván, a village in the Northeast of the country. She's as a mentor assistant for Roma integration projects in education and employment. Andrea was divorced 15 years ago and has to raise her three sons alone. Each month she has a balance of 630 euros, including her salary and social benefits. It is not much to sustain a family of four. We are struggling to make ends meet. We can save on clothes. We buy them if they are necessary, and we can grow basic foodstuffs that we need for the kitchen. These fruits and vegetables are from the garden. But food is very expensive. We spend a lot on it. They can't afford any extras and any unexpected expense could tip them over the edge. We struggle every day to survive. At the end of the month it sometimes happens that we run out of money and cannot pay the bills. We really need to plan our budget to be able to pay the bills. Andrea cannot afford petrol for her car, so she has to get up at 5am every morning to take the bus to work. In Hungary about 12% of the population is at risk of poverty according to Eurostat. Facing a dramatic crisis, Hungary received 20 billion euros in 2008 from international organisations. So, single mothers are more vulnerable than men, as we saw in this report. Is the situation getting worse with this economic crisis, especially in Eastern Europe? Around one-third of single parents, according to statistics 80-95% of single parents are single mothers with children, are really at risk of poverty. It seems to me that this is also a reason why children have a higher risk of poverty than the average. Concerning the crisis, higher unemployment has hit women more now at the second stage. It seems to me that the risk is really very high for them. Mary Collins, you have seen recent data from research by Oxfam. What does it show? The European Women's Lobby and Oxfam are finalising a report on the impact of the recession on women's poverty and social exclusion. We've looked particularly at countries in Eastern and Central Europe, as well as some countries in the old EU. Certainly, the situation relating to single mothers is extremely worrying. More and more single mothers are coming under extreme pressure in terms of employment patterns, in terms of part-time work, fixed contracts and atypical patterns of work, which in fact prevent them from combining their childcare and increasingly their elderly care responsibilities. Many of the childcare structures in most of these countries are to a certain extent collapsing, because there's less public investment and the costs are becoming extremely difficult to meet, particularly for women working part time, who have a part-time salary. Part time. Why do you think women are more often offered short-term contracts? There are two problems. One is the society dimension - how society perceives the role of women in society. This means that, for women to have more rights, men have to take more responsibility. It may seem obvious, but it's not really. In a crisis situation, the problems we face in terms of reduction of public services are crucial. At a time when women, especially single mothers, have to take more advantage of the labour market and the opportunities they are offered are not very common and very limited, they need more support than ever from the public sphere, which is, on the contrary, being reduced. What we are experiencing is the terribly high impact of indebtedness, because of course women try to bridge over their bad situation and they become trapped in poverty by debt. It seems to me that this is one issue that we must highlight more. Do you think Europe can do something in this area? It's not an area where Europe has any responsibility or competence. It's more a question of local awareness and local structures to help them. We must stress that the EU has very limited competence in social affairs. Women who are in situations of real difficulty because of the type of work that they do and low pay actually have to go and seek money from private lenders and the interest rates are huge. Now that governments have taken over and bailed out banks, they have a responsibility to ensure that banking is accessible to everybody and that there's an ethical banking system with loans being given to women, particularly in relation to housing. I do think that the European Central Bank has a role to play in bringing about that turnover and a responsibility to ensure that everybody has access to credit and access to avoid it. Is the pay gap another problem in women's poverty? How does it affect women's poverty? The figure is now around 17%. Two years ago we were happy that it was just 15%. Unfortunately it seems to us that it is rising, and of course it also has an impact on women's poverty. As a consequence, mainly in the group of elderly women, it has a very sad impact. For instance, in Spain it's very typical that for the same job, the same task, you have two different categories of contracts for exactly the same activity. This must be not only prosecuted, but banned in Europe. This is possible if there is a European dimension to this, with equality set at the European level. Secondly, what you said is very important about the role of the EU institutions in controlling the economy. Let's not forget that the problem we have now is that some institutions have simply reacted without considering the social dimension of their acts. The banks, for instance, are part of the economy. HOUSING Having a low income makes it hard for families to find decent accommodation. The situation is difficult across Europe. In France, the Abbé Pierre Foundation has highlighted the need for 900,000 homes for low-income families. Let's see how one family in Paris manages to survive. It's 7.30am and Laetitia is getting ready for school in her bathroom. You don't have to be dirty just because the house is. Here the teenager gets dressed, does her homework sat on the toilet, without a table. She keeps her books above the bath. She lives with her mother and two little brothers in 18 square metres in Paris. This situation has gone on for almost 10 years. You can see the conditions we're in. 534 euros. That's what you see here. Her mother, Valentine, has tried everything. An Ivorian, she lives in France legally. She works as a nanny and a cleaner. Valentine knows she is entitled to decent housing under French law. She has even been to court but with no result so far. Daily life is hard for the children. Breakfast is on the hoof. There's never any privacy, the whole family shares the one bed. Sleeping in the same bed as my little brothers isn't good. Sometimes when I take a shower... Look, there's no glass, not even a screen. When I'm in the shower, little boys are curious, they open the door. Last year the economic situation made the housing crisis worse, becoming a source of inequalities for millions according to the Fondation Abbé Pierre. We must not cause exclusion through housing. So we must stop evictions. Housing benefits, which in the end limit the costs for households, must increase as rent levels rise. And we must build massively. We need 900,000 more homes in France today. Thanks to a regulation adopted by the EP in February, disadvantaged communities may soon benefit from EU regional funding to renovate their homes. In France today the cycle of bad housing poses a threat to the health, schooling, and social integration of thousands of children. So, housing is a very important right, but it's becoming too expensive for many families. What can Europe do in this case? If it's a right, the public sector has to provide this guarantee. If you limit this to privately owned housing, many of these families cannot access it. You need to guarantee that there is a stock of public housing that you can use as a basis for these housing rights. Secondly, to control the economy. Houses are impossible to buy or rent for many people because it's too expensive. Is it possible to control the economy? In some dimensions, yes, it is possible, but probably the solution is not in that direction. To control all the economy, Europe could help a lot in this case, because structural funds and the social fund can help to solve the worst situations, as far as housing is concerned. When women live in poverty, children grow up in poverty. How can we break this vicious circle? I think we need to look at the broader dimension and we need to look at women's lives. It's not fair to say that the crisis is the cause of everything. We need to look at the position of women before the crisis. But the crisis is certainly exacerbating the situation and making it much more acute. We see visible forms of poverty today that perhaps we didn't see two years ago, and we see very much that there's a female face to poverty. Obviously, it's a whole lot of dimensions. If I come back to the housing issue, I think from our report there's clear evidence that the issue of violence against women rises in recession because men lose their jobs and because many conditions are created. Many women end up homeless because there are services around that NGOs, for example, provide, but they too are being cut in terms of public investment. It's a vicious circle, and women and children are ending up in the streets. This year is the European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion. How will you define the success of this year? What must be achieved? The first thing we must understand is that it's not a question of charity. It's a question of responsibility and of establishing the frameworks to avoid poverty existing. If we succeed in having this, we will have won a big battle. Mary Collins. - It's a question of fundamental rights. It's a year, as you say, so it's an opportunity to bring the issues to the political agenda, to look at the structural dimensions and particularly the gender dimensions. Edit Bauer. - It seems to me that it is time to define anew the responsibility on every decision-making level. That's all for this edition of Crossborder. Thanks to our guests and see you soon on EuroparlTV.