Sinking beneath the poverty line: Serbia’s forgotten tragedy


Amid Covid-19’s cruel impact on human health and world economies, there is another crisis that has gone unspoken even though it remains a significant issue in countries like Serbia. People did lose their jobs due to the pandemic. But what is to be said about those who have already been struggling for years? What is to be said about those who are even more vulnerable? Politika News reports on the ongoing poverty crisis in Serbia.

Several months before the country’s parliamentary and local elections on 21st June, the Serbian government announced a small €100 subsidy for citizens in need. However, only those with valid ID were eligible to receive this government aid. Individuals without such documentation, including the very poor and many Roma people, once again, have been left invisible to Serbia’s welfare system.

Among and in addition to these communities, children and young adults aged 15 to 24 make up some of the most vulnerable people in Serbia. Moreover, households in which the breadwinner has a low-level of education or has no job at all are among those who are finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet. The situation is similar in multi-member families and residents of suburban areas.

There are two variants of poverty generally monitored by humanitarians: absolute and relative poverty. Relative poverty usually implies that an individual’s income is below the average income in their community.  

Last year 23.2% of the population in Serbia were at risk of poverty (data from the Republic Bureau of Statistics).

Not being able to satisfy basic needs means that someone is considered to be living in absolute poverty. In 2018, approximately 500 000 registered citizens in Serbia were considered to be living in absolute poverty. (Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction Unit of the Government of the Republic of Serbia). Over 7 300 people were living below the poverty line. According to the Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction Unit of the Government of the Republic of Serbia, a single-member household is considered to be living below the poverty line when they are left with less than 12 286 dinars (approximately £94, or $128) a month to spend.

A sobering UNICEF report in 2019 announced that Serbia had at least 115 000 children living in absolute poverty. The percentage increases for relative poverty, with 30.9% of children in Serbia possibly falling below the poverty line in 2019 alone. 

Serbia’s brain drain

To that end, another serious issue for young people in Serbia is finding a job that pays well. More than 100 000 young people are currently registered at the National Employment Service as unemployed. Each year Serbia ‘loses’ approximately 51 000 people, mostly young and educated, as more and more Serbians emigrate to wealthier countries seeking a better quality of life. 

For Serbians today, moving abroad – itself not always an easy way out of poverty – has become even harder due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The end of 2020 will hopefully mark the beginning of a slow end to this deadly virus. But for the thousands of adults and children in Serbia who continue to struggle to keep their heads above the poverty line, 2021 will be just another year of poverty.

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