Austria has no cohesive programmes at national level linking social inclusion and culture. In particular, people with migrant background and people facing poverty are threatened by cultural or social exclusion.
The Law on the Rights of Indigenous Ethnic Minorities in Austria (1976), the Volksgruppengesetz (Ethnic Groups Act), significantly curtailed the rights granted in Article °7 of the 1955 State Treaty. Six groups are recognised as ethnic minorities in different parts of Austria: Slovenes (in Carinthia and Styria, ca. 25 000), the Croats (in Burgenland, ca. 20 000), the Hungarians (in Burgenland and Vienna, ca. 40 000), the Czechs (20 000) and Slovaks (10 000, both mostly in Vienna). In 1992, the Roma (in all nine Austrian Bundesländer, ca. 50 000) became the latest ethnic minority group to be recognised. There is an ongoing debate among the recognised ethnic groups over the perception that the provisions meant to safeguard their cultural heritage are not being properly applied and executed. Since 2005, Austrian sign language is a recognised minority language with about 10 000 speakers.
The Federal Chancellery’s department for the Volksgruppengesetz (Ethnic Groups Act, 2000) is responsible for providing support for cultural activities of ethnic minority groups. Essentially, associations, foundations and funds are entitled to apply for funding for projects specific to ethnic groups, as well as churches and religious communities and their institutions. With EUR 3.9 million, the budget for ethnic groups has remained almost the same since 1995.
In 2019, there are about 1.4 million people with a foreign nationality living in Austria (16.2% of the total population). Almost half of the non-Austrian nationals come from the European Union, 192 000 are German, the biggest group of foreigners in Austria (13% of all), and 112 000 are Romanian. 700 000 people are third-country nationals, with Serbians (122 000) as the biggest group, followed by Turks (117 000) and citizens from Bosnia and Herzegovina (96 000). Among people with a non-European nationality, Asians form the biggest group (189 000) and 35 000 people from Africa are living in Austria.
As much as many other European countries, Austria has been the destination of refugees from war zones, primarily from Syria (50 000 people) and Afghanistan (44 000). The number of asylum applications has risen by more than 200% in 2015, but has declined sharply after the shutdown of the Balkan route in 2016. Policy making and administration are facing great challenges regarding the social and cultural integration of people with a migrant background. The Division for Integration of the Federal Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs is responsible for these tasks.
The law and its application distinguish sharply between citizens of Austria and the EU on the one hand and those of third countries on the other. A number of measures have attracted considerable criticism from human rights organisations and other NGOs, such as the tightening of residence permits in the context of the Aliens’ Rights Act which has been sharpened, initially through the limitation of transition times for asylum procedures. Generally, immigrants from non-EU-countries are disadvantaged in the labour market and the Austrian education system.
Prevention and decrease of poverty and social exclusion are essential objectives of the social and welfare policy on national and EU-level. According to STATISTIK AUSTRIA, more than 1.5 million people are affected by poverty. The risk of poverty declined since 2008 by 2,6% and it is lower than the EU average, actual poverty halved from 5,9 to 3%. Long-time unemployed persons belong to the high-risk group, 8,3% are at in-work poverty risk.
To avoid the risks of social exclusion of people with a migration background, social inequalities or any other impairments, or even enable their social inclusion, most of all private initiatives are actively engaged in order to improve the situation. One example is the initiative Hunger auf Kunst und Kultur (hungry for arts and culture) founded by the network Conference on Poverty (Armutskonferenz) 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 with lower incomes. Hunger auf Kunst und Kultur is supported by different authorities, for example the City of Vienna and the State of Upper Austria as well as numerous sponsors and other promoters. It is available in all the Bundesländer, with the exception of Carinthia. The Armutskonferenz 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.
Most often there are private cultural initiatives and NGOs which take care of the cultural participation of migrants and minorities.