One in six Europeans is living below national poverty thresholds, with children particularly vulnerable, according to the results of an official study.
The European Commission’s annual report on "social protection and social inclusion" also found 10 percent of people living in households without anybody working as well as wide discrepancies between life expectancies between EU member states.
"Recent reforms to make national systems more fiscally and socially sustainable are encouraging, but there are still big challenges ahead," said EU Social Affairs Commissioner Vladimir Spidla.
"The facts are clear, 16 percent of Europeans remain at risk of poverty and 10 percent live in jobless households," he said of the data which will be formally presented to EU leaders at a summit in Brussels next month.
The study shows a 13-year gap between the highest and lowest life expectancies for men, and spending on health and long-term care in the EU ranging from five percent of GDP to 11 percent.
"But through mutual learning and by stimulating countries to set common goals, Europe can bring a real added value to national efforts to reinforce social cohesion," said Spidla.
In 2004, 16 percent of EU citizens lived under the poverty threshold defined as 60 percent of their country’s median income, "a situation likely to hamper their capacity to fully participate in society."
The rate ranged from 9-10 percent in Sweden and the Czech Republic to 21 percent in Lithuania and Poland.
The figures, most from 2004, do not include Romania and Bulgaria which joined the EU last month.
Children are often at greater risk-of-poverty than the rest of the population, with 19 percent below the poverty threshold, according to the study results.
The share of children living in jobless households varies greatly across member states, ranging from less than three percent in Luxembourg to 14 percent or more in Britain and Bulgaria.
"Living in a household where no one works affects both children’s current living conditions, and the conditions in which they develop by lack of an appropriate role model," according to the study.
Neither does having a job always protect people from the risk of poverty. In 2004 eight percent of EU workers lived under the poverty threshold, "thereby facing difficulties in participating fully in society."
European life expectancy levels have "increased spectacularly in the last half century," according to the report.
However, there are currently wide disparities, with men’s life expectancies ranging from 65.4 (Lithuania) to 78.4 years (Sweden) and those of women from 75.4 (Romania) to 83.9 (Spain).