The financial crisis of recent years and the COVID-19 pandemic have brought many economic and social difficulties for the citizens of Greece, as there have been recorded many job losses and loss of life. Although citizens have equal rights and obligations on the basis of the Constitution, there is discrimination among vulnerable social groups. They are people who face a number of difficulties in their integration into society, either because society cannot accept them, or because of social-economic constraints. The National and Regional Social Inclusion Policy is trying to put these groups under strong social protection. In particular, although the islands of the South Aegean Region are quite supportive of the country’s economy, as they are a global tourist destination, they face restrictions which include, for example, inadequate social services, their understaffing and their spatial fragmentation.

The aim of this survey is to identify the problems arising from the social inclusion process, both in the field of employment and the economy, to identify people in financial difficulties and to address these problems by all the means and tools available to the country at local and regional level. Through the operation of the South Aegean Regional Social Inclusion Observatory, cases concerning social exclusion or financial difficulties can be observed. The responsibility of the Observatory is to record and monitor the conditions through which poverty occurs and to implement actions to address these issues. Finally, the ultimate objective of research is to highlight local needs in terms of social protection, welfare and solidarity policies, to address them, to prevent poverty and eradicate social exclusion.

The study is divided into four parts through which the aim is to present one comprehensive overview of the phenomenon of poverty and its impact on the South Aegean Region population in its temporal, spatial and social dimensions. The first part concerns the European, national and regional framework for social inclusion. It outlines the Europe 2020 Strategy, the National Integration Strategy and refers to the current situation at European and national level. The role of the newly established National Integration Mechanism, the guidelines of the Regional Social Integration Strategy (PESKE) and the position of the South Aegean Regional Observatory are also mentioned. The target groups for monitoring and interventions are described. The second part records the existing conditions in the South Aegean Region. Geographical, demographic, economic and social characteristics, as well as employment and poverty indicators are presented. The study describes the existing social cohesion bodies and organisations, the population of vulnerable groups at regional, municipal and island level and determines the situation in relation to the whole country and the other regions.

The third part concerns the assessments made by the municipal authorities of the South Aegean Region themselves, as well as by the social services of the Region. The results of qualitative surveys in relation to quantitative data are presented with a view to establishing convergences and discrepancies. A comparison of the current situation against the findings of the PESKE is made and a SWOT analysis of the Region’s social inclusion capacity is performed. Finally, the fourth part explains the methodology for defining the evaluation indicators, the table of indicators proposed for the Observatory in order to record, monitor and evaluate actions on social inclusion and social exclusion in the South Aegean Region. The current health trend is also briefly described based on international and national sources, setting the framework for the subsequent studies of the project, whose results are expected to be directly affected by the pandemic, thus also affecting the indicators.

The socio-economic research underlying the study’s methodological approach covers three dimensions. The first dimension was the “geographical dimension of poverty”, linked to the administrative area of implementation of anti-poverty policies. The “social dimension” refers to the horizontal investigation of the phenomena, in terms of their causes and impacts. Finally, the “temporal dimension” refers to the current situation and also includes data from previous years over a 5-year period. Particular emphasis is placed on 2016-2019, in order to reflect the evolution of the phenomena over time in the South Aegean Region.

At European level, the fight against poverty and social exclusion is one of the EU’s specific objectives. From 1975 to 1994 the European Economic Community implemented several programmes to combat poverty. The Treaty of Amsterdam in 1999 enshrined the eradication of social exclusion as an objective of Community social policy. The Lisbon Strategy, launched in 2000, set up a monitoring and coordination mechanism, which included setting targets, measuring poverty against a set of indicators and benchmarks. The Open Method of Coordination, established in 2006, was a new policy framework in the area of social protection and social inclusion. The Europe 2020 Strategy aims to lift at least 20 million people out of poverty and social exclusion and to increase the employment of people aged 20-64 to 75 %.

The European Commission has adopted actions under the Europe 2020 Strategy, such as the European Platform for Poverty and Social Exclusion launched in 2010, the Agenda for New Skills and Jobs and the Social Investment Package. These initiatives have provided Member States with additional guidance on the national reforms they need to deliver on their commitments to reach the agreed Europe 2020 targets.

In Europe in recent years there are still some groups of the population that are particularly exposed to the risk of poverty. In particular, children, young people, single-parent families, dependent families, people with a background of migration, ethnic minorities and people with disabilities.