Members' Research Service By / June 9, 2015

Child poverty in the EU

Written by Verena Kern In 2013, 27,7 percent of children in the EU were at risk of poverty or social…

© Sunny studio / Fotalia
Written by Verena Kern

In 2013, 27,7 percent of children in the EU were at risk of poverty or social exclusion. The figures have been on the rise in most EU Member States since the onset of the crisis. The risk of growing up in poverty is highest in Bulgaria, Romania and Greece and lowest in Finland, Denmark and Sweden. Furthermore, 11,1 percent of children are severely affected by material deprivation meaning they are unable to afford goods and services considered ‘ordinary’ or ‘necessary’ by society.

Child poverty in the EU
© Sunny studio / Fotalia

The effects of growing up in poverty are devastating in many areas of life and can have long-lasting effects on the well-being, development and health of children. Moreover, these children are put at a high risk of social exclusion, stigmatization and life-long poverty. In addition to the effects on the individual, child poverty also imposes costs on the society as a whole.

Whilst poor access to facilities and services can be an issue, lack of income is the main driver in putting families at risk of poverty. However, the provision of adequate income support and levels of spending on family benefits vary considerably between EU Member States and so does the support for parents’ labour market participation for example by providing accessible, affordable and quality childcare services. Due to budgetary constraints some countries have reduced social investments in recent years.

Whilst EU Member States have the main responsibility in combating poverty and social exclusion, the European Union has tried to find a common approach in recent years, including in light of the EU 2020 target of lifting 20 million people out of poverty and social exclusion. In 2013, the European Commission adopted a Recommendation on Child Poverty as part of a wider Social Investment Package. The Recommendation stresses the importance of early intervention and preventative approaches. The Committee on Employment and Social Affairs of the European Parliament is currently drafting a report on reducing inequalities with a special focus on child poverty.


Child poverty and social exclusion a framework for European action/ Ron Davies, EPRS, 2013, 7 p. This briefing gives some background information on child poverty in the EU and summarises main EU initiatives to tackle the issue.

Analysis for the European Commission

Child poverty and child well-being in the European Union/ Tarki Report for the European Commission, Volume I: Main report, 2010, 207 p. In three chapters this report outlines the most important characteristics and determinants of child poverty whilst describing policies in EU Member States and identifying indicators of child poverty and well-being in the EU.

Policy solutions for fostering inclusive labour markets and for combating child poverty and social exclusion/ EU Network of Independent Experts on Social Inclusion, 2011, 26 p.
In chapter 3 of this paper the authors look into key challenges and concrete policy options on preventing and tackling child poverty, also in light of the implementation of the Europe 2020 Strategy.

Social protection during the economic crisis. How do changes to benefit systems affect children?/ Barbara Janta, Marie-Louise Henham, RAND Europe, DG Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, 2014, 18 p.
This policy brief examines how the changes to family and child-related benefits during the economic crisis affected children. The paper finds that whilst there was an increase in the percentage of children living in poverty and social exclusion and child and family policies deteriorated to some extent, recent reforms and measures across member states aimed to protect vulnerable families.

Stakeholder views

Child poverty and social exclusion in Europe. A matter of children’s rights/ Save the Children, 2014, 40 p.
This report analyses causes and effects of child poverty and social exclusion in EU Member States. It finds that employment conditions and social transfers have the greatest influence on child poverty, followed by equal access to affordable childcare, free high-quality education and adequate and affordable housing.

Poverty and Inequality in the EU/ European Anti-Poverty Network, 2014, 40 p.
“This explainer sets out to provide a simple introduction to the poverty debate. It focuses primarily on current perspectives on the nature and extent of poverty, its causes and its links to inequality. It explains how poverty is understood and measured currently in the EU, and highlights some of the shortcomings of these approaches.”

The 2014 National Reform Programmes (NRP) and National Social Reports (NSR) from a Child Poverty and Well-being perspective/ Eurochild, 23 September 2014, 27 p.
Based on an analysis of the National Reform Programmes (NRPs), Eurochild assesses the commitment of 17 EU Member States to fight child poverty and social exclusion. Particular attention is given to whether the NRPs have taken into account the Commission’s Social Investment Package and the Recommendation on child poverty and well-being.

Explainer on children’s well-being/ European Anti Poverty Network and Eurochild, 2013, 35 p.
“This explainer on children’s well-being is aimed at raising public awareness about child poverty in the European context, its causes, and impacts on children and their families. It highlights policy and practice targeted at child poverty and promoting the well-being of all children. The text provides an overview of the main concepts and terminology with practice examples, as well as brief discussions of relevant child and family policy issues in the context of the current economic crisis and pressure on national budgets.”

Policy Paper on Child Poverty and Social Exclusion/ Eurodiaconia, Brussels, 2012, 7 p.
In response to the European Commission’s Recommendation on Child Poverty Eurodiaconia published this short policy brief with a number of additional recommendations coming from the members of Eurodiaconia in EU Member States.

Child well-being in rich countries: a comparative overview/ UNICEF Office of Research, Innocenti Report Card 11, 60 p.
This UNICEF report compares child well-being in 29 of the world’s advanced economies. In three parts it presents different dimensions of child well-being such as education, health, material well-being and looks at the progress made in these areas in countries around the world.


Children at risk of poverty or social exclusion, Eurostat, Statistics explained. Last updated 20 April 2015.
This article presents statistical data on the situation of children (aged 0-17) in the European Union (EU) who were at risk of poverty or social exclusion. The analysis, based on 2011 data, compares them with adults (18-64) and the elderly (65 or over), and also takes a look at the impact of the household type, employment situation, parents’ educational level, migrant background and severe material deprivation.

People at risk of poverty or social exclusion by age and sex (less than 18 years old) 2004-2013, Eurostat table.

Poverty risk, inequality and social exclusion. Eulalia Claros, Verena Kern, EPRS Infographic, 2014, 2p.
“The distribution of poverty, inequality and social exclusion varies significantly across EU Member States. Based on 2013 data, this infographic shows who is at risk, how equally disposable income is distributed, and how much EU countries spend on specific measures to combat poverty and social exclusion.”

The State of the World’s Children 2014 in Numbers: Every Child Counts – Revealing Disparities, Advancing Children’s Rights. United Nations, New York, 2014. This UN report provides 14 comparative country tables with indicators such as early childhood development, disparities by household wealth, demography, economy, education, health.

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