BRUSSELS - People's rights last year eroded, as many more grappled with poverty, threats against democracy, and widespread racism, says the EU's fundamental rights agency.

"Rising energy and living costs have pushed one-in-five people across the EU into poverty," says the Vienna-based agency, in a 144-page report published on Wednesday (5 June).

And entire families have been plunged into poverty and social exclusion, including almost 25 percent of children.

"This share represented about 20 million children in 2022, almost one million more than in 2019," it says, citing the latest available figures from the EU's statistics office, Eurostat.

Many have been hit hard by a cost-of-living crisis given high inflation. The report says children, women, young people, racial and ethnic minorities, older persons, LGBTQI people, Roma and people with disabilities are at the highest risk of experiencing poverty and threats to their fundamental rights.

This comes despite legal obligations under the European Social Charter for EU states to recognise the right to housing and the right to protect against poverty and social exclusion.

It also comes despite one of the main goals of the EU to promote the well-being of its people, as highlighted in the EU treaty.

Although EU laws have been designed to stamp out things like energy poverty, member states' plans lack objectives, says the report.

Coupled with a rise in racism and growing intolerance against migrants, the report offers sombre reading ahead of this weekend's EU elections where most of the political groups and leaders are making big promises.

And it places part of the blame on geopolitical conflicts, spanning Israel's war in Gaza to racism against migrants of African descent as over 4,000 died last year trying to reach Europe by sea.

Entrenched discrimination against Roma also remains despite years of EU-led efforts and national plans that have broadly failed to deliver meaningful results.

The whole comes against the backdrop of misinformation and attacks against democracy itself, notes the report.

"Restrictions on climate protests obstruct people’s rights to freedom of assembly," it says. And journalists faced intimidation through lawsuits designed to drain their resources, time and energy.

"Our rights to freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression remain at risk," says the report.