2019.10.22 09:30

How much poverty is there really in Lithuania?

Lithuania's poverty indicators remain among the highest in the European Union, but not all are convinced that they are an accurate measure of people's material wellbeing.

Eurostat estimates that 28.3 percent of people in Lithuania are “at risk of poverty or social exclusion” and 22.9 percent are at risk of poverty. This means that their disposable income, after social transfers, is below 60 percent of the national average.

By this measure, Lithuania fares worse than any other EU member state except Romania and Latvia.

However, some believe the measure gives a wrong impression and is prone to be over-dramatized. Economist Nerijus Mačiulis of Swedbank Lithuania notes that the Eurostat figure is an indicator of income inequality rather than poverty.

“Some economists like to dramatize things, saying these people are in poverty. In Switzerland, too, 20 percent of the population are in relative poverty: while their income may exceed 2,000 euros a month, it is below 60 percent of the national average,” the economist says.

The at-risk-of-poverty rate in Switzerland is 14.6 percent, according to Eurostat.

“Relative poverty says little about whether an individual has access to essential goods and services,” Mačiulis goes on, and countries with high absolute poverty rates – indicating the share of the population unable to meet basic needs – may have low relative poverty rates.

The absolute poverty rate in Lithuania edged down to 11.1 percent in 2018, from 13.8 percent in 2017, according to the national statistics office.

Measure of social participation, not bare survival

Romas Lazutka, a professor of economics at Vilnius University, says Eurostat's statistics are the most realistic and objective data available today.

“There is a controversy in Lithuania. Some say such data is unacceptable, nonsense, because the poverty figures did not fall even though people's incomes grew, wages almost doubled and pensions rose,” Lazutka told BNS. “But the point is that we're talking about the relative poverty threshold.

“In Europe and other civilized countries, poverty is a relative measure. It's not that people have nothing to eat or nowhere to sleep, or don't have warm shoes in winter,” he says.

Statistics measure people's condition in relation to that of their society's, Lazutka notes. People live in poverty if the dearth of material, social and cultural resources at their disposal preclude them from enjoying a standard of living considered normal in their society.

Aistė Adomavičienė, the head of the National Anti-Poverty Network, says relative poverty measures how many people are unable to achieve even the average quality of life in a given society.

“In a developed country, it is customary to measure not absolute poverty, extreme poverty, a state in which people can barely survive, but to look at what resources an individual needs to fully participate in social life,” she told BNS.

Read more: Almost a third of Lithuanians at risk of poverty – Eurostat

Read more: Lithuanian president proposes €100m additional spending on social security