Learning against Poverty


The year 2010 is the European Year for combating poverty and social exclusion. The Estonian Ministry of Social Affairs has also made a plan for 2010 to fight against poverty. Estonia will spend a total of 66 000 Euros on the implementation of the European Year program in 2010 for combating poverty and social exclusion. The main target of the program is to support employment opportunities for disabled and elderly persons. During the year the Ministry of Social Affairs intends to strengthen cooperation with experts and researches, as well as with representatives of government agencies, local governments and the third sector in order to reach this goal.

The relative poverty threshold - 290 Euros

In 2007, 19.5% of the Estonian population lived in relative poverty. The relative poverty threshold in 2007 was at 290 Euros per month. This is a five-fold income inequality between the poorest and richest fifth of the population, which means that Estonia retained its place in the top ten European countries with highest inequality rates. The richest households in Estonia are households without children where all members of employable age are employed. The poorest households are households with children where no members are employed.
The Euro barometer surveys show that in the Baltic countries the first reason for poverty is unemployment and this is feared. People in the Baltic states are the most pessimistic of EU countries about their ability to keep their current job in the next 12 months. More than 4 in 10 Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians (between 41% and 48%) are not sure if they will work in the same place within a year’s time. In comparison, less than 1 in 10 Finnish (6%), Austrian, Dutch, Danish and German (all 8%) employed residents are concerned about keeping their job.

People are learning how to typewrite

In the Estonian small town called Rakvere Heiki Koov has been teaching people how to use the computer and tells us about how being unemployed affects people in the close-up reality. Most of his students are middle-aged or older. Heiki had at first been surprised that many of the students had had no contact with the computer in their lives and did not even know who to use the keyboard to type. He was also surprised that about one third of his students could not calculate how much 300 gram of cheese would cost if one kilo cost 3 Euros. Furthermore the ones unable to solve this task said that “book keeping” is not their area of expertise. These are two excellent examples about the correlations between poor education and poverty. On the other hand all his students have been good learners, most of them are never late and after about 100 lessons they have not only learnt how to use the keyboard and do basic calculations but are also able to teach themselves further with these basic skills.
The unemployed prefer to learn something they can practice in daily life so Heiki has taught them not only how to find job offers, write CV-s, motivation letters and application letters for job interviews but also the basic skills of internet: how to find departure times of buses, to see what is on in the theatre and cinema etc.
The Estonian program for combating poverty and social exclusion emphasizes that learning helps the unemployed to find jobs and consequently reduces poverty. During coffee pauses the students of Heiki have told about their experiences when trying to apply for jobs as sales assistants, cleaners, production workers etc in Rakvere but competition is tough and usually one does not even get noticed in the crowd of applicants. Nevertheless one of his students has founded her own sewing company and Heiki has hopes that most of his students have chances in finding jobs in the near future.
Poverty and unemployment are of course depressing phenomena but Heiki says that his students in Rakevere are not depressed. The reason might be that the Unemployment Office mainly directs the short -term unemployed to further education. Secondly the elderly unemployed usually have children who might help their parents at difficult times.