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Do more to fight poverty, say European bishops, Caritas

The Brussels-based commission representing European Catholic bishops has urged the European Commission to do more to combat poverty, warning that one in five EU citizens now face poverty.

“Unemployment, adverse economic and working conditions, especially among young people, are affecting millions of families,” the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union said in a joint appeal with Caritas Europe, an umbrella organisation for Catholic charitable bodies.

“We encourage the European institutions and member-states to enhance their social policies to combat the structural causes of poverty, promoting integral human development.”

The appeal was issued for the Church’s annual World Day of the Poor, marked on 17th November and initiated by Pope Francis in 2017 with special Masses and free meals.

The bishops’ commission, COMECE, said almost a fifth of the EU’s population currently lived “in poverty or at risk of poverty,” according to recent data. It called for at least 30 per cent of the EU’s European Social Fund, created in 1957, to be earmarked for social inclusion and fighting poverty.

“It is unacceptable that our societies do not adequately support children, who are the group most at risk,” COMECE added. “The EU and its member states should promote decent and stable forms of employment, including for online platform work and hidden self-employment. In the long run, it is necessary to fundamentally rethink the European social model.”

Church groups have repeatedly highlighted growing economic and social disparities across the EU, whose 28 member states have a combined population of 512 million, around half nominally Catholic.

In March, the Brussels-based Conference of European Justice and Peace Commissions said labour costs and conditions varied drastically across the bloc, where social justice was threatened by an unfair distribution of wealth and opportunities. It added that the European Union’s single market had contributed to “an enormous increase in material well-being,” but also needed “an infrastructure for governance in view of the common good” if it was to reflect the Church’s social teaching.

In an appeal on 16th October, Caritas Europe said austerity policies since the 2008 financial crisis had put national social protection systems under pressure, adding that poverty and exclusion now affected 112 million EU citizens, almost a quarter of them children.

In its November appeal, COMECE welcomed proposals for a “European Child Guarantee” that would ensure education, health, decent housing and adequate nutrition for all EU children.

“Pope Francis invites all of us to reflect on the growing inequalities between rich and poor in our societies and their painful consequences,” COMECE said. “We encourage policy makers to enhance the social and civil dialogue in Europe and to sincerely listen to people experiencing poverty in order to shape a more fair, inclusive and person-centred society.”

Picture: A man who is two days clean from heroin is seen in a sleeping bag along a street in Bristol, England. The Brussels-based commission representing the European Union’s Catholic bishops has urged the bloc’s new governing commission that one in five EU citizens now face poverty. (CNS photo/Ben Birchall, Reuters).

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