Up to 25 million more Europeans are at risk of sinking into poverty by 2025 if governments push on with austerity measures, international aid agency Oxfam warned Wednesday, calling such policies "moral and economic nonsense".
"Europe's handling of the economic crisis threatens to roll-back decades of social rights," said Natalia Alonso, head of Oxfam's EU office.
"Aggressive cuts to social security, health and education, fewer rights for workers and unfair taxation are trapping millions of Europeans in a circle of poverty that could last for generations. It is moral and economic nonsense."
"The only people benefiting from austerity are the richest 10 percent of Europeans who alone have seen their wealth rise.
"Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Spain and the UK -- countries that are most aggressively pursuing austerity measures -- will soon rank amongst the most unequal in the world if their leaders don't change course.
"For example, the gap between rich and poor in the UK and Spain could become the same as in South Sudan or Paraguay," added Alonso.
If left unchecked, austerity policies could put between 15 and 25 million more Europeans at risk of poverty by 2025, said the agency.
"This would bring the number of people at risk of poverty in Europe up to 146 million, over a quarter of the population, warned Oxfam ahead of a EU finance minister meeting in Vilnius.
Oxfam said that there are lessons to be learnt from deep cuts made to social spending in Latin America, South East Asia and Africa throughout the 1980s and 90s, noting that some countries in these regions took two decades to claw their way back to square one.
"There are alternatives to austerity. Ahead of (Friday's) EU finance ministers' meeting, we're calling on European governments to champion a new economic and social model that invests in people, strengthens democracy and pursues fair taxation.
"Governments could raise billions for public services, such as health and education, by taxing the wealthiest and cracking down on tax dodging."
"A new model of prosperity is possible. Investing in schools, hospitals, housing, research and technology, millions of Europeans could be put back to work and support a sustainable economy," Alonso said.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
Editor's Note: The headline to this story has been modified for accuracy.