Written by Marie Lecerf,
Over recent decades, there has been marked progress in reducing poverty worldwide. The research conducted by this year’s Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences laureates, Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer, has considerably improved the ability to fight global poverty. Nevertheless, despite this progress, the number of people living in extreme poverty remains too high, even in Europe and, in particular, amongst children.
As 2019 also marks the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC, 20 November 1989), celebration of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty on 17 October is a great opportunity to take stock of what the European Union is doing to fight against child poverty in its own Member States.
Child poverty in the European Union
In 2017, 112.8 million people in the EU-28 lived in households at risk of poverty or social exclusion (i.e. 22.4 % EU-28, Eurostat, latest data available). With an at-risk-of-poverty or social exclusion rate of 24.9 % in the EU-28, children were at greater risk in 2017 than the total population: almost one in four children in the European Union is at risk of poverty or social exclusion. This situation was mirrored in 19 EU Member States.
EU contribution to the fight against child poverty
As child poverty in the European Union remains a reality, especially for certain groups (children in single parent, large or migrant families), child poverty has become a major policy concern for the European Union. Precarious living conditions during childhood have a detrimental effect, not only on attainment in school but also on health and on the ability to integrate socially during adolescence and early adulthood. The consequences of poverty experienced in childhood or adolescence can continue into later life and may be passed on from one generation to the next.
EU Charter of Fundamental Rights
The European Union and its Member States are bound to comply with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, Article 24 of which is entirely dedicated to the rights of the child: ‘1. Children shall have the right to such protection and care as is necessary for their well-being. They may express their views freely. Such views shall be taken into consideration on matters which concern them in accordance with their age and maturity. 2. In all actions relating to children, whether taken by public authorities or private institutions, the child’s best interests must be a primary consideration.’
EU policy responses to child poverty
Fighting child poverty in the EU is primarily the responsibility of the Member States. Nevertheless, at EU level, there is broad consensus that action is needed to lift children out of poverty and to promote children’s wellbeing.
One of the targets of the European 2020 strategy is to reduce the number of people living in poverty by 20 million (compared with 2008). In 2013, the European Commission adopted, and the European Council endorsed, a Recommendation ‘Investing in children – breaking the cycle of disadvantage’. Considering child poverty from a comprehensive perspective, it sets a three pillar structure: employment and adequate income, access to quality services and children’s participation.
In November 2015, Parliament adopted a resolution on reducing inequalities with a specific focus on the most vulnerable children. In 2017, Parliament went a step further, requesting that the Commission implement a preparatory action on establishing a possible child guarantee scheme. This guarantee should ensure that every child in poverty receives free access to quality early childhood education and care, education, healthcare, and access to decent housing and adequate nutrition.
The proclamation of the European Pillar of Social Rights in November 2017 demonstrates an increased willingness to tackle child poverty in the European Union. Article 11 explicitly reflects that the fight against child poverty is a priority under the social Europe approach, while referring to children’s right to be protected from poverty.
EU funds are key in tackling child poverty
Numerous financial instruments provide a framework for Member States to implement measures to address child poverty with the support of the European Union.
- The 2013 Recommendation calls for the opportunities provided by the European Social and Investment Funds during 2014-2020 to be used when possible to help children.
- The Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD) complements EU funding to fight child poverty. Its objectives are to alleviate the worst forms of poverty by providing food and/or basic material assistance as well as social inclusion activities for the most deprived. Children represent almost one-third (30 %) of the total number of people receiving food support.
- The EU’s proposal for the upcoming 2021-2027 multiannual financial framework, including the European Social Fund +, highlights the need to strengthen the fight against poverty and social exclusion. On 4 April 2019, the European Parliament adopted a legislative resolution on the European Commission’s proposal on the ESF+, proposing that Member States should allocate at least 5 % of their ESF+ resources to targeted actions aimed at implementing the European Child Guarantee. It also recommended that Member States should allocate at least 27 % of their ESF+ resources to specific objectives in the field of social inclusion, and at least 3 % of their resources to the specific objective of the social inclusion of the most deprived and/or material deprivation. On 2 October 2019, the European Parliament’s Committee on Employment and Social Affairs voted on the decision to enter into interinstitutional negotiations, so that the dossier can progress.
Despite all the actions and policies undertaken, the task ahead to eradicate child poverty in the European Union will be a daunting challenge for the next decade. Hopefully, as Esther Duflo recently said, their research could also provide a source of inspiration for the European Union.