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3rd Dec 2023

Analysis

EU Child Guarantee under fire as poverty figures rise

  • The EU Child Guarantee recommends that member states ensure a minimum set of key services for households struggling to meet the basic needs of their youngest children (Photo: Unsplash)
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In 2022, the number of children at risk of poverty and social exclusion in the EU increased again — to 24.7 percent, i.e. one-child-in-four.

The pandemic and the cost of living crisis have reversed the downward trend in these figures seen up to 2019, despite efforts of member states, including through the EU child guarantee.

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  • In 2021, nearly half of children in Romania were living in poverty or social exclusion (Photo: Unsplash)

The guarantee is based on a Council recommendation from 2021 and, although not legally-binding, recommends that member states ensure a minimum set of key services for households struggling to meet the basic needs of their youngest children. These are access to adequate housing, healthy food, education, or health care.

However, more than two years later, the response from EU countries is still insufficient, both in terms of action and speed of implementation.

In 2021, Romania, Bulgaria and Spain reached levels of child poverty well above average.

According to Eurostat, 41.5 percent of children in Romania were then living in poverty or social exclusion, compared to 11 and 13 percent in countries such as Slovenia or the Czech Republic.

"The implementation [of the child guarantee] is not going as expected," Romanian MEP and vice-chair of the child rights intergroup Dragos Pislaru (Renew group) told EUobserver. "We could do more."

As a result of the recommendation, national capitals were given nine months to appoint a national coordinator and draw up an action plan to tackle the problem.

So far, four countries (Romania, Austria, Latvia and Germany) have not submitted their national action plans. And even some EU countries that have done so have merely repackaged old measures.

"Many of the policies included in the action plans already existed," highlights a new report by the EU's fundamental rights agency (FRA). "This might mean that existing practices continue without any policy improvements."

Enough power?

As for national coordinators, all countries have appointed their own, albeit with varying degrees of responsibility.

Given their different backgrounds and levels of seniority, "it is unclear whether they will have sufficient authority to fulfil their role effectively," the FRA adds.

The agency considers that the follow-up to these plans should be monitored as part of the European semester and that the results should be included in the recommendations made to each member state.

For the Renew Europe MEP, more than a recommendation is needed to respond to this urgent problem facing European societies.

"We need guidance, we need proper implementation and institutional structure," Pislaru stressed.

His proposal is to set up a European Children's Authority, along the lines of the European Labour Authority (ELA), but without the status of an agency, without an executive mandate, and without interfering in the social competences of the member states.

The idea is to create a flexible agency capable of moving ahead the agenda, identifying problems, seeking solutions, proposing best practice and, above all, improving coordination between EU countries.

Already behind schedule

Member states have committed to reducing the number of people living in poverty or social exclusion by at least 15 million by 2030. At least five million of those should be children.

"The target is no longer ambitious," Enrico Tormen, senior advocacy advisor at Save the Children Europe, told EUobserver. "It does not reflect reality because it was set before the crisis we are living through."

The children's advocacy group is now calling for these targets to be adjusted, particularly to ensure that the EU child guarantee is not wasted as a tool to combat what it describes as a pan-European crisis.

But that is a crisis that does not affect everyone equally. Poverty is more prevalent among certain groups and in certain European regions, although it is suffered by all member states, even the Nordic ones.

In the case of Roma children, more than eight-out-of-ten lived in households at risk of poverty or social exclusion in 2021.

Migrant children from Ukraine and other third countries are another such group.

Between 2021 and 2022, the number of asylum-seeking children increased from 167,495 to 222,100. The increase is similar for unaccompanied minors.

The impact is felt in the most recent figures, but it is even more significant in the long term.

The OECD estimates that it takes about five generations for poor families to reach the average income of their country.

"Even if the crisis is over, the effects are not," Tormen notes.

"We have to revamp the entire system of investing in children, to understand that separating social assistance from education, health, housing, won't get us anywhere," Pislaru concluded.

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