What EU countries lack to lift 20 million children out of poverty

One in four children in the EU is at risk of poverty or social exclusion, which amounts to twenty million children under the age of eighteen without secure fundamental rights.

The situation is particularly critical in countries such as Romania, Spain and Italy, but no member state is free from child poverty. In Germany, for example, there are over 2 million children living in poverty or social exclusion. In Sweden, this scourge affects almost two out of ten children.

The current cost-of-living crisis is making the situation even worse, especially for low-income families relying on welfare benefits, Eric Grosshaus, Advocacy Officer for Child Poverty and Social Inequality at Save the Children Germany, told EUobserver.

“The money they receive from the government is not sufficient for healthy nutrition and is putting children at risk of malnutrition and thus lifelong negative consequences for their health and development,” he said.

For Save the Children’s CEO in Spain, Andrés Conde, the fact that the bloc’s fourth-largest economy has child poverty rates similar to those of smaller economies such as Bulgaria and Romania reflects a persistent “lack of public and political attention” to the problem of child poverty. One that is now being tackled, although not at the speed it should be.

“Electricity and gas prices have risen excessively, as has the price of housing. We feel like we’re drowning,” one child living in Spain told the NGO that advocates for their rights.

Choosing between heating and food should not be a reality for these families, said PPE MEP Brando Benifei at the launch of Save the Children’s report ‘Guaranteeing children’s future’, which has assessed the state of child poverty in the different member states in the aftermath of the pandemic and the crisis resulting from the war in Ukraine.

The report shows that the poor living conditions of these children are reflected in their access to healthy food, (free) education, adequate housing, social services and health care (including mental health, the great forgotten area until the arrival of Covid-19).

In fact, children from these households are three times more likely to suffer from mental health problems than their peers from wealthier families.

“They [my parents] pay for everything in my life, for my food and home. It feels like I’m a big burden to them”, said another Finnish underage child about their situation at home.

Possible solutions

The EU aims to reduce the number of children experiencing poverty and social exclusion by at least 5 million by 2030. Among its mechanisms, the new European Child Guarantee framework (a non-legally binding one), and the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+) resources.

“But do we have the political will and the social awareness?,” Conde asked the audience.

According to the follow-up of the report, there are still 8 EU countries that have not delivered their national action plans in this regard. The delay is already a year late, he said, when the problem is “urgent”.

“There is a lack of recognition and social awareness of this important issue”, explained Conde.

In addition, the European Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs, Nicholas Schmit, recalled that child poverty has a cost for the economies of the 27 Member States. In Spain, it was revealed on Monday that it exceeds €63bn a year —close to five percent of the country’s GDP.

Solutions must go beyond the urgency of the momentum, Schmit said, noting that in the long term, solutions must include quality jobs, better wages, and strong social safety networks to end the cycle of intergenerational disadvantage for vulnerable children.

The report identified three other objectives to end child poverty in the EU: more investment, target specific groups directly in terms of compensation and support (such as migrants, and kids with disabilities), and make sure that children are listened to.

“More equity is needed to ensure that it is not always the same people who fail,” the CEO of Save the Children Spain told EUobserver.

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