Abstract

In this article, we explore the extent to which a consideration of welfare regime and socioeconomic differences in poverty levels and patterns can assist us in making an informed assessment of alternative poverty indicators. Poverty in the EU is normally defined in terms of income thresholds at the level of each member state. However, with the enlargement of the EU, such measures have come in for increasing criticism. One set of reservation relates to the limitations imposed by an entirely national frame of reference. An alternative critique focuses on the fact that low income is an unreliable indicator of poverty. In this article, we seek to explore the strength of both arguments by comparing the outcomes associated with ‘at risk of poverty’ and consistent poverty at both national and EU levels. Developing an appropriate assessment of poverty levels in the enlarged EU, particularly in periods of rapid change, is likely to require that we make use of a number of indicators none of which capture the full complexity of cross-national poverty outcomes. However, our analysis suggests that if a choice is to be made between the available indicators, the ‘mixed consistent poverty’ indicator developed in this study is best suited to achieving the stated EU objective of assessing the scale of exclusion from minimally acceptable standards of living in individual countries while also measuring the extent to which the whole population of Europe is sharing in the benefits of high average prosperity.

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