Poverty in Hungary skyrockets – Government to stop publishing statistics

The Hungarian Central Statistical Office (KSH) released data showing that over 35% of Hungary’s population lives below the poverty line. In the same breath, the KSH indicated that it would stop publishing statistics on poverty levels, because this term is too elusive. In fact, KSH now claims that when it published statistics on the poverty line, it would have been more appropriate to refer to the demographics in this group as simply having “modest incomes.” This is how Zsolt Németh, the deputy president of the KSH, rationalized the decision to stop reporting on poverty in Hungary.

Up until now, KSH has considered any family of four (two adults and two children) living on an income of 253,000 forints or less (circa $900) as being under the poverty line, which means that just over 35% of the total population is impacted directly by poverty.

Authorities and private security firms enforcing eviction notices are an everyday occurence in Hungary. Photo: Balrad.

Authorities and private security firms enforcing eviction notices, and subsequent protests, are an everyday occurence in Hungary. Photo: Balrad.

The Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) calculates that this number is somewhat higher: 4.2 million Hungarians live under the poverty line, and that this number has increased by a half million since Fidesz came to power in 2010. MSZP MP Lajos Korózs told journalists that the middle class is in a “vegetative state,” while only the economic elites are enjoying the support of the Orbán government. Social inequity is growing at a disturbingly fast pace in Hungary, with the wealthiest in society spending two and a half times more on food than those on more modest incomes, and spending five times more on clothing. This divide is also present between the somewhat wealthier Budapest and rural regions, where people often live on a much more modest income.

Simply not publishing any poverty-related statistics or even changing the definitions in such a way as to make year-over-year comparisons or the identification of trends more difficult is almost certainly a callous political move on the part of the Orbán government…even if KSH, technically, is an arms-length professional state agency.

The move reminds me of the German Democratic Republic, where officials were so embarrassed by the staggering number of suicides, that they decided to stop publishing or manipulated these figures. (There is one study that suggests that the higher suicide rates in the East represented a historical continuity, which pre-dated the creation of the two Germanies in 1949 and was thus not a result of political repression.)

KSH’s sudden decision to pull the plug on statistics focusing on rising poverty rightly raises eyebrows in a country where the independence and professionalism of state institutions is increasingly non-existent.

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