EU inequality got worse before Covid crisis, data shows

The gap in earnings between the richest and poorest Europeans had got wider even before the Covid crisis struck, official EU data shows.

The European Commission’s Social Scoreboard, which measures progress in the implementation of the Pillar of Social Rights, shows that the richest 20% of Europeans were making 4.9 times more than the poorest 20% in 2010.

Four member states - Spain, Lithuania, Romania and Latvia – were classed as having a “lower performance” on this crucial measure at the time.

But by 2019, the richest 20% were making 5.1 times more than the poorest 20% and two more member states had fallen into the lowest category – Bulgaria and Italy – despite five years’ of economic growth.

The rise is the legacy of austerity measures pursued by the EU following the last crisis, which caused inequality to grow rapidly between 2013 and 2015.

The ETUC is highlighting the data ahead of tomorrow’s launch of the European Commission’s action plan on the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights.

A draft of the action plan seen by the ETUC warns the “coronavirus pandemic will further worsen the situation, leading to higher levels of financial insecurity, poverty and income inequality.”

Based on the draft, the ETUC is calling on the Commission to make amendments including:

  • A commitment to continuing emergency economic support until a real recovery has begun
  • Action to prevent all forms of precarious work and promote stable and protected work
  • Legislation by 2022 on common EU standards for minimum income/social protection schemes

Strong action is needed to live up to the expectations of citizens, with 88% saying “social Europe” is important to them personally according to the latest Eurobarometer poll.

Job, working conditions and living standards were all ranked among the highest priorities.

ETUC Confederal Secretary Liina Carr said:

“The EU’s pillar of social rights was launched five years’ ago with a promise of making Europe ‘more inclusive and fairer’.

“But the EU’s own data shows that austerity had made Europe more unequal even before the Covid crisis, which will inevitably make inequality worse.

“That’s why the European Commission must go further and faster in implementing the pillar of social rights. A promise won’t feed a family or pay the rent.

“The immediate priority has to be extending economic support helping workers and companies to get through the worst of this crisis before fixing the holes in our social safety net that has left so many without protection.”


The income inequality ratio “total income received by the 20 % of the population with the highest income to that received by the 20 % of the population with the lowest income”, according to Eurostat.