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Would a European "Child Guarantee" help to fight against child poverty?

06/11/2018

Stefan Meyer

1. The Great Depression 2007-17 has questioned the intergenerational contract, increasing the rate of child poverty and youth unemployment.

2. The protection of children's rights has been gaining importance in European priorities, especially with the communication of "Investing in childhood: breaking the cycle of disadvantages" (2013).

3. Despite this, one in four children in Europe are at risk of poverty or exclusion.

4. Much more needs to be done and the approach must be preventive and integrated (multisectoral).

5. The European Parliament believes that a Child Guarantee can be the decisive step we need to take.

6. The Commission has asked a consortium, of which we are part, to study the viability of this initiative.

Social inclusion, well-being and the protection of children's rights are issues that have been progressively gaining weight in European Union policy. One of the most significant milestones took place in 2013, with the adoption of the recommendation “Investing in childhood: breaking the cycle of disadvantages” and its subsequent approval by the Council of Ministers. This initiative provided a clear framework for the Commission and the Member States to develop policies and programmes for the development, inclusion and well-being of children, especially those in vulnerable situations.

More recently, the adoption of the European Pillar of Social Rights (2017) and, in particular, Principle 11, reinforces the importance of promoting the rights of children.

"Children have the right to enjoy affordable and good quality education and assistance. Children have the right to protection against poverty. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds have the right to specific measures destined to promote equal opportunities”. European Pillar of Social Rights Principle 11

Whilst this direction seems to be the right one, recent studies on the implementation of the Recommendation "Investing in Children" and other diverse sources show that much more needs to be done, since high levels of child poverty and social exclusion persist in many countries, particularly amongst some groups of children and girls.

The report “Combating child poverty: an issue of fundamental rights”, highlights how one in four children under the age of 18 is at risk of poverty or social exclusion across the EU. In some Member States, such as Romania, it is as high as 1 out of every 2. Although it can affect all children, some groups, such as the Roma population and migrant children, are at greater risk: a survey by the FRA revealed that more than 90% of Roma children in 9 Member States were living in poverty. 

These various reports also highlight that, despite the political commitment and an increase of the use of European Union Funds to support families and children from disadvantaged backgrounds, the impact is not the expected. Therefore, it is advisable to look for new formulas that allow us to use resources in a much more extensive and strategic way.

Can a "Child Guarantee" be the tool that Europe needs to combat child poverty?

The 2013 Recommendation: "Investing in Children", was based on the observation of a fact: "children who grow up in poverty are more likely to suffer social exclusion and health problems in the future, and are also less likely to develop all their potential later in life". Therefore, Europe considered "breaking the circle", the intergenerational transmission of poverty, the cycle of disadvantage in the first years, and investing in childhood from a preventive approach as a way to combat and reduce the risk of poverty and social exclusion.

In this context, on the 24th of November 2015, the European Parliament voted in favour of the proposal for a Child Guarantee, which would complement the existing Youth Guarantee and would help to address the high levels of child poverty and social exclusion in many Member States and ensure the effective application of the Recommendation.

To explore the feasibility of a European Child Guarantee and analyse the conditions in which it should be implemented, we are currently carrying out a study that will include reports by each of the EU Member States.

The EU Parliament has emphasized that the Children's Guarantee should ensure that all children in Europe who are at risk of poverty have access to:

  • Universal, public, free and quality medical care
  • Free, inclusive and quality public education
  • Early education and free care
  • Adequate nutrition
  • Decent housing.

Therefore, the study will analyse these five areas. In addition, it will give special and separate attention to particularly vulnerable groups of children specifically:

  • Children residing in institutions
  • Children of recent migrants and refugees
  • Children with disabilities and other special needs
  • Children living in precarious family situations.

The analysis has been entrusted to a consortium from both the academic (Liser/Applica) and social action (Eurochild and Save The Children) fields, in which we have the honour of participating. At this moment, the study is in its initial phase, defining and agreeing on the methodology, scope and necessary instruments.

We hope the results will be available by the end of next year and that they will give clear guidance on the design options, feasibility and implementation of a future Child Guarantee Plan in the European Union. It will also clarify the potential added value provided by a common framework and a community financing tool with its own actions, regulations and fund.

Over the past decade exclusion rates have been increasing for children living in the peripheral countries of the Union, but also amongst certain groups such as migrants, the Roma population or minors with multiple factors of precariousness. Principle 11 of the European Pillar of Social Rights defines minimums. This study will provide guidelines and tools so that the new European Commission, elected in May 2019, will deepen the legacy of the Juncker Commission.