Children are more exposed to the risk of poverty and social exclusion than the overall population of the EU. Today 115.7 million (23.4%) people in the EU are exposed to the risk of poverty and social exclusion and 25.4 million (27%) of these are children.
An independent Paper prepared for the Cyprus Presidency of the Council of the EU, supported by the 2007-2013 EU Programme for employment and social solidarity (PROGRESS), shows that only in four EU member states, among them Cyprus, are children less at risk of poverty and social exclusion than the total population. The other three member states are Denmark, Slovenia and Finland.
Among the 25.4 million children facing the risk of poverty and social exclusion, 19.2 million live in a household whose income is below the poverty risk threshold, 9 million are severely deprived and 8.6 million live in very low work intensity household. Most worrying is the fact that 12.4% of the children in the EU were at persistent risk of poverty in 2010.
The Paper was presented today in Nicosia, during a conference of the Cyprus Presidency titled “Investing in Children: Preventing and tackling child poverty and social exclusion, promoting children’s well being”. It stresses that the growing impact of the economic and financial crisis on children and their families in many member states. The impact has been essentially twofold, according to the Paper. On the one hand, rising unemployment has significantly reduced incomes and increased the risk of poverty for some families. On the other hand, the increased emphasis on reducing budgetary deficits and the introduction of austerity measures has led to cut backs in services essential for children’s development and well-being and has, in some countries, let to restrictions or cut backs in income support for families with children.
The Paper noted that the Europe 2020 Strategy currently does not include an EU social inclusion target in the relation to the specific situation of children even if some member states have adopted children targets at the national level. Child poverty and social exclusion and the well-being of children have so far been very peripheral issues in the implementation of the Europe 2020 Strategy, the Paper says.
Europe’s future prosperity depends crucially on its capacity to give its children the best start in life, the European Commissioner for employment, social affairs and inclusion Laszlo Andor said in a video message, stressing at the same time that budget cuts in member states should not undermine programs that support children in disadvantaged families.
The Commissioner noted that “thanks to the good work of the Cyprus Presidency we now have council conclusions on child poverty that demonstrate a broad consensus in the EU that more and better investment in children is a must for Europe to pave its way to recovery”.
“Social investment that supports children and families is essential for Europe’s future” he said, adding that “building on the consensus created over the last months the Commission will soon adopt a recommendation on child poverty as part of a social investment package”. The recommendation will set out common principles and monitoring instruments to support member states’ efforts to develop better policies, according to the Commissioner.
He said that over the last months the Commission has for its part mobilised a range of instruments to better support children across Europe. Country specific recommendations adopted in July as part of the Europe 2020 Strategy have called on a number of member states to step up efforts related to income support measures, quality child care or social services for children and to prevent an increase in child poverty, as he said.
In her speech, read out by the Ministry of Labour DG George Papageorgiou, Cyprus’ Labour Minister Sotiroula Charalambous said that the conclusions adopted by the member states in early October are essential for preventing and tackling poverty and social exclusion and promoting children’s well-being.
The conclusions invite the member states to adequately emphasise the aspects of child poverty within their national policies in a comprehensive manner covering appropriate jobs and adequate income for families, as well as providing services in early childhood development, education, housing and health-care. Member states are also invited to provide national policies with adequate targets and resources.
The Minister said that “it is clear that both at national and European level the fight against child poverty and promoting children’s well-being should be among the priorities of the social dimension of the Europe 2020 Strategy, especially as regards the target to reduce poverty and social exclusion”.
Child poverty, social exclusion and child well-being is a priority of the Cyprus Presidency of the EU, Charalambous said, noting that at national level Cyprus has managed to keep child poverty at relatively low levels, for several reasons related to the important role that the Cypriot society and family continue to play in maintaining low rates of child poverty and high rates of child well-being. She also noted the role of specific policies and actions that encourage the creation of social care programmes and the tackling of social issues at local level.