Hungary calls on group of experts to declare war on poverty

Roma children

Despite Hungary's economic growth over the last decade, poverty - especially child poverty - is a burning issue. The socialist-liberal government says it is now declaring war on poverty, and is commissioning a group of experts to tell it how to fight it. Radio Budapest spoke to the head of the group, sociologist Zsuzsa Ferge:

"The size of the problem is relatively similar to that of the UK, using the Laeken indicators. This means that the percentage of those who live under two thirds of the average is about 15 percent of the population. Unfortunately, the rate of children is somewhat larger than that, so child poverty is a big issue. The number of children who are poor - depending on what definition one uses - definitely reaches over half a million."

That is why the newly announced comprehensive programme against poverty focuses on children...

"Yes, and I have to say that our British colleagues have been a very great help and inspiration in this matter because there is a programme to abolish child poverty, which Tony Blair announced a few years ago. We always refer to this material when thinking about the programme and the prime minister was also informed about that. I think it is a good example and good practice."

It is a huge comprehensive programme and I think it's the first in 15 years. It will offer mostly long-term solutions but will there be some short term measures as well?

"There are programmes, I don't deny that but we are just starting to gather forces and certainly the programme will have short-term and long-term goals. It is essentially a long-term programme trying to diminish the production of poverty via the children and via the school system, which really is a crucial issue here. But of course there are a number of short term problems, starting from the lack of water in several thousand families and the amount of child benefit and the problem of children not having enough to eat and these won't wait twenty years to be solved."

How do you conceive the main points of this programme?

"It's really too early to say. I was just asked by the prime minister to head the group that will work out the programme. Of course we have a lot of material but before saying that it is a draft programme, which can be made public, we have to wait several months. What's important for us now is that there is definitely a government commitment, which means that there will also be money for it, because without money you cannot go very far. So, we are just starting really."

What do you think will be the reaction of those people who are affected?

"I don't know how many people will know about it. I very much hope that the civil organisations that currently are members of the Hungarian anti-poverty network will help to inform and also without the participation of the poor and the non-poor, the Roma and the non-Roma, a programme of this sort cannot be implemented. So, I very much hope that it is an objective which will appeal to the different factions - political and ethnic - because it has to be a sort of a common cause."