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Portugal: Austerity measures threaten the most vulnerable

Strasbourg, 10/7/2012 - "The most vulnerable social groups have been hit hardest by the fiscal austerity measures implemented in Portugal. The government should strengthen its efforts to mitigate the negative impact of the financial crisis, in particular on children, elderly and the Roma" said today Commissioner Muižnieks publishing a report based on the findings of his visit to Portugal last 7-9 May 2012.

Child poverty is on the rise in Portugal. The combination of growing unemployment and cuts in salaries, increased taxes and reduced social and unemployment benefits has resulted in reduced incomes and growing poverty among many Portuguese families. Evictions as a result of non-payment of mortgages have also had a particularly negative impact on children's rights.

Budgetary restrictions in education can be harmful in an overall context which is still marked by a high rate of school drop-outs. "This situation, together with growing unemployment and shrinking family incomes holds the risk of leading to a resurgence of child labour, notably in the informal economic sector and agriculture. The authorities should be particularly vigilant and ensure that programmes aiming at preventing child labour are continued."

The elderly are adversely affected by the fiscal austerity measures as well. "The freezing of pensions and cuts in social benefits, together with the hike in prices of health care, public transportation, gas, electricity and food products have led to a deterioration in the living conditions of elderly persons with low incomes, especially those residing in isolated rural areas."

Violence towards the elderly has increased. Reportedly almost 40% of the elderly population in Portugal has suffered abuse within the family. "The authorities should strengthen the measures taken to lessen the impact of austerity measures on older persons, who need more protection and adequate opportunities to lead a decent life and play an active role in society".

As regards Roma, they continue to suffer from social exclusion and various forms of discrimination, particularly as regards housing, education and access to employment, resulting in the persistence of their social exclusion and poverty. "The authorities should substantially improve the housing conditions of Roma, ensure that all Roma pupils have equal access to quality education and eradicate all forms of anti-Gypsyism. The National Strategy for the Integration of the Roma Communities adopted last January is a step in the right direction; it should be approved and implemented with no further delay, in close co-operation with representatives of the Roma community".

Lastly the Commissioner invites the Portuguese authorities to continue providing adequate support to independent National Human Rights Structures and non-governmental organisations involved in human rights work.

Together with the report, the Commissioner also published a letter to the Minister of Justice of Portugal recommending tackling the problem of excessive length of judicial proceedings, strengthening anti-discrimination measures and eradicating abuse and violence against older persons.

Read the comments by the Portuguese authorities (18 July 2012)