A UNICEF report “Children of the Recession” released Tuesday 28 October in Rome says that 2.6 million children have sunk below the poverty line in the world’s most affluent countries since the financial crisis began in 2008. The total number of children living in poverty in rich countries has risen to an estimated 76.5 million.
“The report found that the social policy responses of countries with similar economic circumstances varied markedly, with differing impacts on children,” said Jeffrey O’Malley, UNICEF’s head of global policy and strategy, in a press release on the organization’s website.
UNICEF’s analysis showed that early economic stimulus programs in some countries were effective in protecting children, but that things changed after 2010. that year, most developed countries pivoted sharply from budget stimulus to budget cuts. That had negative effects on children – especially in the Mediterranean region.
“Many affluent countries have suffered a great leap backwards in terms of household income, and the impact on children will have long-lasting repercussions for them and their communities,” O’Malley said, adding that “all children need strong social safety nets to protect children in bad times and good – and wealthy countries should lead by example.”
Children in Croatia are among the hardest hit by the current recession.
In 23 of the 41 countries analysed, child poverty has increased since 2008. In Ireland, Croatia, Latvia, Greece and Iceland, rates rose by over 50 per cent.
The report analysed 41 countries and found that 76.6 million children there were living below the poverty level. Poverty has increased in 23 countries, mostly in Ireland, Greece, Latvia, Croatia and Iceland, while the number of children who live in families with incomes below the poverty line has fallen in 18 countries, most markedly in Poland, Slovakia, Switzerland, Norway and Finland.
Croatia ranked 38th as the number of its poor children has increased by 11.8 percent since 2008. The largest increase was recorded in Ireland (20.4%), and increases were also observed in the United States (2.6%) and the United Kingdom (1.6%). Among Croatia’s neighbours, in Hungary child poverty increased by 2.9% and in Slovenia by 1.8%.
Croatia ranked 39th in terms of the proportion of young people aged 15-24 who are not in education, employment or training, whose number has gone up by 8.5%. The largest increases were observed in Cyprus (9%) and Greece (8.9%), and increases were also recorded in Italy and Romania (5.6% each), Hungary (3.9%) and Slovenia (2.7%).
“Failure to respond boldly may have long-term negative implications for societies,” the report said, warning of possible reduced population growth, as young people were not motivated to start their own families because of economic conditions.
UNICEF called on governments to ensure minimum social standards, saying that they should have worked on reducing poverty during the time of growth in order to protect themselves against future shocks.
What an important topic!
While this UNICEF Report may not be without flaws in the criteria used in the research to measure poverty, in its definition of poverty, in its assumptions about causes of poverty (e.g. effects of recession, austerity measures etc.) or increased poverty one thing is for sure: child poverty is one of the most important issues all governments need to take seriously, regardless of whether the economy is good or bad. Children are our future world and will shape it one day. Peace and comfort cannot be guaranteed in any country where many live in or on the brink of poverty. Poverty in itself breeds unrest and discomfort and it’s time the political elites took serious the recommendation of creating and maintaining acceptable minimum social standards, which see all having the opportunities to live above the poverty line. Otherwise, the future looks much bleaker than we can imagine.
Because real median incomes fell in many countries, UNICEF used an “anchored” poverty line, which was the equivalent of 60% of median income in 2008, but increased only by prices over the period between 2008 and 2012.
The use of an anchored poverty line recognises that when household incomes fall dramatically, the use of a purely relative poverty line will underestimate the effects of recession and budget cuts on family well being.
For many countries, this UNICEF report card makes for grim reading and Croatia is one of those countries. Certainly the ever rising numbers of job losses and unemployment statistics in Croatia have seen the past six years of unrelenting recession and consequent difficulties for large numbers of families in satisfying their most basic material and educational needs. Unemployment rates have left many families unable to provide the care, protection and opportunities to which children are entitled.
The gap between rich and poor families is widening in an alarming number of developed countries and Croatia is no exception. However, one does get that uneasy feeling that many in Croatia have amassed relatively high wealth through corruption and shonky or fraudulent privatisation deals of public companies.
The disquieting thought comes to mind: will the place of birth determine the children’s rights and opportunities in life (not just in Croatia)? Will such history in human societies of the so-called developed world we left behind decades ago slowly grow new paws and take over the not so distant future? Surely not! All we need is a solid lead by the government that would decentralise much of the welfare initiatives to local levels so that no child is left unattended particularly given that most of the children in Croatia who live below the poverty line live in rural areas, villages and local authorities know local needs best. The whole society needs to be included in fighting child poverty and lack of opportunities because the society of tomorrow will be based on what we do today. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A.,M.A.Ps. (Syd)