UN: World’s richest countries saw sharp rise in child poverty

Image: PA News Media

A significant rise in child poverty was seen in 40 of the world’s richest countries between 2014 and 2021, says the UN Children’s Fund’s global research centre, Innocenti.

Analysing child support policies among the group of developed economies, a new report finds that despite an overall decrease in poverty of nearly eight per cent over the seven year period, there were still more than 69 million children living in households earning less than 60 per cent of the average national income.

That’s according to the UNICEF research wing focus on Member States of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the European Union (EU),

Poland and Slovenia are highlighted as two countries performing the best in tackling child poverty, followed by Latvia and South Korea. This is in sharp contrast however to some of the richest countries that are lagging behind. Bo Viktor Nylund, director of Innocenti, said that the impacts of such poverty on children ‘are both persistent and damaging’.

For most children, he added, this means that they may grow up without enough nutritious food, clothes, school supplies, or a warm place to call home. It also stops them realising their basic rights and can lead to poor physical and mental health.”

Lifetime of consequences

The consequences of poverty can last a lifetime, says the report. Children who experience poverty have less chance of completing school and hence earn lower wages as adults. In some countries, a person born in a deprived area is likely to live eight to nine years less than a person born in a wealthy area, the report reveals.

Huge inequalities are also highlighted. across 38 countries that have available data, it is revealed that children living in a single parent family are over three times as likely to be living in poverty as other children. Children with disabilities or from minority ethnic/racial backgrounds are also at higher-than-average risk. The years from 2012 to 2019 saw largely stable economic growth among the countries surveyed, presenting an opportunity to recover from the impacts of the 2008-10 recession.

And yet, while several countries reduced child poverty, some of the wealthiest saw the biggest reversals. Countries with similar levels of national income, such as Slovenia and Spain, experienced stark differences in child poverty rates, 10 and 28 per cent respectively.

Children’s living conditions can also be improved irrespective of a country’s wealth. Poland, Slovenia, Latvia, and Lithuania – not among the richest OECD and EU countries – have achieved important reductions in child poverty, with minus 38 per cent in Poland and minus 31 per cent in the other countries.

‘Expand social protection for children’

Yet five higher income countries – the United Kingdom (+20 per cent) and France, Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland (all around +10 per cent) – recorded the greatest increases in the number of children living in households experiencing financial hardship since 2014.

If child poverty is to be eliminated, says the report, governments and stakeholders should be urgently looking to expand social protection for children, including child and family benefits to supplement families’ household income.

They must also ensure all children have access to basic needs like childcare and free education, create employment opportunities with adequate pay and family-friendly policies and adapt measures to the specific needs of minority groups and single-headed households.

“Cash benefits have an immediate effect in alleviating poverty. Decisionmakers can support households by prioritising and increasing expenditure on child and family benefits,” added Mr. Nylund.

Author: Simon Weedy

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