Published on IPSnews, by David Cronin, April 3, 2008.
BRUSSELS, Apr 3 (IPS) – Minimum levels of expenditure on addressing the causes of child poverty should be introduced across the European Union, according to a parliamentarian tasked with analysing the problem.
Some 19 million children live in poverty in the EU, about a fifth of the bloc’s citizens below the age of 18.
While Gabriele Zimmer, a German left-wing member of the European Parliament (MEP), described the statistic as “almost unbelievable”, she indicated that it would be even higher if it was expanded to include young asylum-seekers and undocumented migrants. Zimmer is currently preparing an official report for the Parliament on child poverty.
As expenditure on child welfare varies considerably between the EU’s 27 countries, Zimmer is urging that the idea of setting common rules for what proportion of national income should be devoted to education, child health, social housing and related services should be examined. “We need a discussion about the level of minimum subsistence,” she told IPS. “This is necessary.”
At least 8 percent of each EU country’s national income should be spent on education, Zimmer said. At present, the average for industrialised countries is 6.2 percent.
“You can’t treat poverty without looking at the questions of minimum income and minimum wages,” she added. “You always have to know what the consequences are if people are not paid enough” …
… While the average rate of poverty for lone parents in the OECD is 31 percent, the figure rises to more than 40 percent in Ireland, the Czech Republic, Germany, Luxembourg and Spain.
Richardson noted that lone parents in Belgium, Hungary and Italy are paid supplements to the general family allowances offered by the state. But many other EU countries do not provide anything extra for single mothers or fathers.
Hugh Frazer, a professor with Ireland’s Maynooth University, said that research from his country “shows that poverty in childhood leads to poverty in adulthood.” By leading to reduced economic activity, child poverty can have major costs for entire countries. “This is particularly significant at a time when we have an ageing population (in Europe),” he said.
He argued that a “broad-range approach” is required “if we are to make progress.” This would include boosting access to reasonably paid jobs, the provision of better social services, and ensuring that children are consulted about decisions that affect them.
Frazer voiced optimism about the recognition given to children’s rights in the Lisbon treaty. “This may lead to stronger action at European level,” he said. “At least, I hope it does.” (full text).