Child poverty is now on the agenda of the European Parliament. Will it become a EU priority?

Photography credits: European External Action Service/Flickr

On Tuesday 24th of November, the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) adopted a resolution urging the EU Member States to boost their efforts in order to reduce the alarming levels of increased child poverty across Europe. The official press release of the European Parliament states that one out of four children is at risk of poverty in Europe, and notes that the child poverty rates in Romania and Bulgaria are the most critical among the Member States. Although the UNRC emphasises that every child should be guaranteed the right to education, health care services, housing, leisure and a balanced diet, these rights are not a reality for 51% of the children in Romania and for 45.2% of the children in Bulgaria who are living in poverty, who are denied their right to education, access to social services, and are marginalised in their communities.

The European Parliament (EP) has repeatedly called for the implementation of the Social Investment Package, and has endorsed the European Commission’s recommendation entitled ‘Investing in children: Breaking the cycle of disadvantage’, which promotes a comprehensive policy framework for tackling child poverty and promoting child well-being, starting with three pillars: (1) access to adequate resources in the framework of the European Social Fund; (2) access to quality and inclusive services; (3) and children’s participation in society and decision-making.

In the recently adopted resolution, the EP emphasises that greater political visibility should be given to fighting child poverty at the highest EU political level, particularly because the EU wants to meet the Europe 2020 strategy target of reducing the number of people affected by poverty by at least 20 million by 2020. It notes that the majority of Member States so far have given little attention to using EU structural funds to fight the alarming and still growing rates of poverty among children in Europe and promote their social inclusion and general well-being.

Furthermore, the European Parliament brings to the attention of the European Council, the European Commission and of the EU Member States several comments related to the causes and the consequences related to child poverty, urging for an enhanced political action to favour child wellbeing across Europe. Among these comments, the following stand out:

  • child poverty stems from the poverty of families, whereas low-income and large families are therefore more at risk of poverty;
  • increasing employment is an effective instrument for fighting poverty;
  • child poverty can be alleviated by improving opportunities in the labour market, especially those of women, through better development of childcare;
  • deteriorating national wage policies and social protection systems are increasing the risk of poverty and social exclusion, which contributes to growing child poverty;
  • the effects of poverty and social exclusion on children can last a lifetime and result in intergenerational worklessness and poverty;
  • child poverty has a high economic cost for societies, particularly as regards increased spending on social support;
  • the upcoming Sustainable Development Goals post-2015 agenda and its universality provide an opportunity to increase investments in children and their rights.

Accordingly, the European Parliament makes 49 recommendations to all the EU bodies so that child poverty can be effectively tackled, among which:

  • Recommends that Member States make a real commitment to developing policies to fight child poverty that focus on correcting child poverty factors and increase the effectiveness of the social support specifically directed at children, but also at parents who are unemployed and the phenomenon of the working poor (such as unemployment benefits and adequate minimum income).
  • Recommends that Member States’ national budgets contain visible, transparent, participatory and accountable provisions for appropriations and costs to combat child poverty and to fulfil their duty to protect children, including through an increase in public spending with a view to attaining such objectives.
  • Calls on the Commission to refrain from recommending reformulations and cuts in the public services of Member States and from the privatisation of public services, which have led unequivocally to the weakening of the social rights of children.
  • Recommends that the Commission establish with Member States a roadmap for the implementation of the three-pillar approach taken in the Commission recommendation ‘Investing in children: Breaking the cycle of disadvantage’ in terms of access to resources, services and children’s participation. Calls on the Member States to make maximum use of the European Structural and Investment Funds, in particular the European Social Fund, in order to implement all three pillars.
  • Recalls that tackling child poverty requires the adoption of a life-cycle approach, including breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty risks, that reflects the different needs of early childhood, primary childhood and adolescence, applying a whole-child oriented approach by measuring the number of deprivations each child experiences simultaneously, thereby identifying those most deprived, and measuring not only monetary poverty but also multidimensional deprivations.
  • Calls for the Commission and Parliament to take the opportunity provided by the mid-term review of the multiannual financial framework to make better use of the European Social Fund, the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived and the Programme for Employment and Social Innovation and to check whether children are a priority in the programming and implementation of regional and cohesion policies, with particular regard to the obligation to gradually eliminate large residential institutions (enforceable since 2014), in order to reinforce adoptive and foster-parent status so that orphans and disadvantaged children can actually grow up in a family or a family-type environment.
  • Recommends that the Member States move away from institutional care in favour of stable foster care systems which better prepare children and young people for an independent life, continued learning or work.
  • Recommends that the Member States develop proactive, universal and integrated social policies that prevent poverty and the removal of children from their family environment.
  • Recommends that the Member States develop and implement integrated child protection systems to protect children against violence, abuse, exploitation and neglect in such a way as to ensure that all duty-bearers and system components work together across sectors and agencies sharing responsibilities to form a protective and empowering environment for all children;
  • Recognises the role of civil society, including children’s rights and anti-poverty organisations, in ensuring EU policy coherence, and calls for strengthened civil dialogue on preventing and tackling child poverty in the Member States.
  • Calls on the Member States to avoid ghettoisation of children experiencing poverty and social exclusion, by introducing minimum standards for children’s housing, taking into account the best interests of the child.

Furthermore, this resolution will be forwarded to the Council, the Commission and the Member States. Here you can find the full text of the EP’s resolution on child poverty.