Filed under: Human rights and rule of law Poverty Roma Social inclusion

Roma family, Cserehat, Hungary

Roma family, Cserehat, Hungary. Photo: Laszlo Siroki

New survey data are helping to tell the story of Roma in Europe. We sat down with human development advisor Andrey Ivanov to get his perspective on the results.

Question: What are the most important findings of the survey?
Andrey Ivanov: Perhaps the most striking finding of the survey is that so many findings are striking. After so many initiatives, policies, strategies, talk – and funding – Roma communities are still the poorest of the poor and the most excluded among the excluded in the European Union (EU).

The second striking finding is that EU membership per se is no recipe for success. Roma are similarly excluded both in new and old Member States. Significant variations between countries exist but the difference between “successful” and “unsuccessful” doesn’t run along a new-old member states divide. The practical implication is clear: Roma inclusion is an EU-wide priority.

To me personally there was another striking finding: the high number of working children. We all know that children are the major victims of poverty and the data on children below the age of 15 working (and not studying) is a brutal indicator of this.

Q: How can we even start discussing social inclusion when on average, about 90 percent of the Roma surveyed live in households below national poverty lines?

AI: I believe we should start discussing this issue realistically and pragmatically. Social exclusion is a complex and multidimensional phenomenon. Various aspects of exclusion mutually reinforce each other through complex feedback loops. So the discussion about social exclusion should start with the realistic acknowledgement of the real status – the real depth of exclusion. This depth determines the feasibility of certain approaches – and non-feasibility of others.

We can’t know with 100 percent confidence which approaches will work, and that is why local knowledge – the experience, ideas and the energy of the people living in Roma communities – is crucial. We talk a lot about “involving Roma” in the process of inclusion but in reality we are far from that.

Q: What do you believe should be a policy change and response to address the situation presented in this survey?

AI: I’ve been working on issues related to Roma inclusion for almost 20 years. I’ve seen a lot of strategies, plans, papers and intentions. Perhaps the best policy would be focusing more on getting things done.

The ultimate results are what matters – not the long road covered or the resources invested. Sure, the euros and hours spent on children’s education is important. But at the end of the day, what really counts is the number of children that complete their education, the quality of the education they get and whether or not they can grab the opportunities that determine quality of life.