COMPENDIUM CULTURAL POLICIES AND TRENDS IN EUROPE
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Austria/ 4.2 Specific policy issues and recent debates  

4.2.8 Social cohesion and cultural policies

Only in recent years has social cohesion in general become an issue in Austria – one of the richest countries in the EU - not least because of the rising risk of poverty in this country too. Generally, the role of social "stabilisers" such as the "social-partnership" (the out-of-parliament agreements between the unions and the political parties), which have cushioned social imbalance for decades, has weakened within the last five years.

Prevention and decrease of poverty and social exclusion are essential objectives of social and welfare policy on national as well as EU-level. One aim of the EU-2020-strategy is to reduce the number of people concerned up to 2018. As one of just a few Member States, Austria has achieved a first successes: according to the "social report 2013-2014”, the number of people who are struck by poverty or social exclusion has been decreased by 125 000 since 2008(compared to this, the number had been increased by 100 000 between 2007 and 2008) even if still more than 1.5 million people are affected by poverty. To achieve the national goals for 2018, another 110 000 persons are needed. Even though the number of people risking poverty diminishes, there is a certain risk, because the number of people in extreme situations and risking exclusion has risen.

The income gap between the rich and the poor has risen continuously. In response to this development, networks and platforms such as the Austrian Social Forum, Workers' Samaritan Federation (ArbeiterSamariter Bund), Caritas and others initiated the network Conference on Poverty (Armutskonferenz) since 2000, which is involved with the research of background settings, reasons, data and figures as well as the elaboration of strategies and measures against poverty and social exclusion in Austria to achieve an improvement of the situation of the aggrieved party.   

In Austria there are no cohesive programmes at national level linking social inclusion and culture. Artistic funds, grants and (prize money) awards, as well as project money, are the main support schemes for artistic work. The Social Security Insurance Fund for Artists, effective since 2000, only covers basic social needs to a limited extent (pension supplement); moreover, artists on very low incomes are excluded. With the study "On the social situation of artists in Austria" (2008) an enormous need for action became evident. The ministries responsible are working on solutions. The artists' interest-group representatives are calling for an unconditional basic income for artists. IG Culture andIG FreieTheaterarbeit consistently highlight the precarious position of artists, above all in the field of performing arts and cultural workers. A survey, conducted by the österreichischekulturdokumentation ("Fair Pay – The financial conditions of cultural workers in cultural initiatives and associations" (in German), commissioned by the Arts Section of the Ministry for Education, the Arts and Culture, Vienna 2013) shows that especially the independent scene ischarcterised by a high numer of precarious employment, even though the sector is distinguished by a high degree of voluntarty work.

The initiative "Hunger auf Kunst und Kultur" (hunger for arts and culture) was founded by the above-mentioned "Conference on Poverty" and the Viennese theatre "Schauspielhaus" in 2003. Meanwhile more than 500 cultural institutions throughout Austria provide free entrance (via a "culture pass") for unemployed people and those on lower incomes."Hunger auf Kunst und Kultur" is supported by the City of Vienna.

The level of voluntary work is relatively high in Austria. According to a country-wide study (2009), 44% of Austrians over the age of 15 were active in the voluntary sector, especially in the fields of neighbourhood help, social services and culture and entertainment.

In 2012, with the "Viennese Charter" (Wiener Charta) the City of Vienna initiated a participatory project, so far unique in Europe, in which the foundations and rules of play for good coexistence in Vienna are to be worked out. The Viennese are actively determining the themes and drafting the charter. Initially, issues were gathered online and by telephone, and were then deepened in charter discussions. Their results were publicly discussed until the end of October. At the end of the participatory process a voluntary agreement over the rules of living together in Vienna and for a good, fair and respectful coexistence emerged. The text of the "Viennese Charter" will be presented at the end of 2012 and publicised throughout Vienna.


Chapter published: 02-02-2016

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