European austerity measures are punishing the most vulnerable members of society and threatening the entire social cohesion of Europe, according to a report from the charity Caritas.
According to Caritas, the tough economic measures being implemented in Ireland, Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal are having a disproportionate impact on poorer, at risk households.
"The prospect of long term austerity measures, given high levels of child poverty, youth unemployment and long term unemployment, could be a recipe for not just one lost generation in Europe but several lost generations." Caritas Europa's study into 'The Impact of the European Crisis' said.
Caritas is a global charity with over one million volunteers, and it argues that the European response of widespread austerity to deal with the economic crisis since 2008 has not succeeded, shows no sign of succeeding and is in fact making things worse for those most at risk.
"Children are at greater risk of poverty than the rest of the population in 21 out of 25 EU member states."
Caritas suggests austerity measures will continue to drag a blanket of poverty over struggling households and families if economic policy carries on down that path. It says European policy must change if the situation is not to deteriorate further.
"A policy approach that prioritizes austerity above all else, particularly at the expense of the weakest members of society, cannot succeed."
"Leadership is called for in finding other, and more radical, ways to address what is a Europe-wide, and indeed a world-wide crisis rather than pursuing the current approach in which poor and vulnerable people across the Member States bear the burden of economic reforms."
According to the study almost a quarter of the European Union population is at risk of poverty or social exclusion, while the amount of people considered the very poorest in society has been steadily rising since 2008.
The charity highlights the increased price of food, fuel and value added tax as critical factors contributing to increased poverty, while saying that cuts to essential health and services have made children especially vulnerable. In Spain, one of the worst hit countries in Europe, the child poverty rate is well above the EU average at 27.2 percent, and has shown a 3.5 percent increase in two years.