Following World War II, Hungary fell under communist rule, which lasted until 1989, when the country became an independent democracy. In 2004 Hungary became a member of the European Union.
The transition from state socialism to market economy not only brought freedom for Hungarians but also a ‘loss of security’ and an increment to social inequalities (Ferge 2004). Restructuring the economy resulted in unemployment, impoverishment and indebtedness for many as over 1 million jobs disappeared in the few years after the Transition. As a result, one third of the population was entrapped in a so-called ‘underclass’ position (Szelényi – Ladányi 2006): facing poverty, spatial segregation and exclusion both from education and the labour market. In this group the Roma, the most numerous minority group in the country, have been highly over-represented.
Poverty has remained a serious social problem even since. Despite the income growth over the last 25 years, close to one third of Hungary’s population is at risk of poverty or social exclusion according to Eurostat data for 2014. The Roma are still over-represented in this group: 84% of the Roma minority is at risk of poverty compared to 27% of the national average (KSH 2014). According to Eurostat, poverty or social exclusion can be seen to be compiled of three dimensions with three indicators: relative income poverty, low work intensity and severe material deprivation, and in in all these indicators - the Roma population has multiple disadvantages (Lukács 2017).
Arguably, the alleviation of extreme poverty can only be most effectively achieved through complex programmes, since the causes are complicated and interlocking. Primarily, state actors are in the position to start and finance complex programmes – because of their high cost. The national development policy has changed over time rather hectically, and it has not been uniform in targeting extreme poverty. The complex development programmes implemented within the framework of the State are reserved about answering questions around tackling school segregation, or providing integrated living environments. The needed professional background to implement these programmes has not always been available, or was only available during any one grant period. Therefore, sustained and significant improvement could not have been expected in the short term as a result of these programmes (Lukács 2017).
Recommended further reading:
In 2017, Badur Foundation commissioned a report to present a concise overview of data related to poverty and social exclusion and an evaluation of the national, regional, and local initiatives aimed at reducing extreme poverty in Hungary. You can download the report in English and in Hungarian.