Wednesday, March 02, 2005

[Global Poverty] Child poverty on the rise in rich nations

by Honor Mahoney
2 March, 2005

BRUSSELS - A United Nations report has shown that child poverty is on the rise in the majority of the world's richest nations.

The report by UNICEF, released on 1 March, shows that the proportion of children living in poverty has risen in 17 of 24 industrialised countries examined.

The report defines child poverty as children living in households with an income below 50 percent of the national median.

Presenting the report in Brussels on Wednesday (2 March), Marta Santos Pais, Director of UNICEF's research centre said the figures "were dramatic and difficult to understand".

She added that it showed that "child poverty has clearly not been a political priority".

The figures show that of the EU countries surveyed, only France, Greece and the UK showed a reduction in child poverty.

In Poland, Luxembourg and the Czech Republic, by contrast, the child poverty rate rose by 4.3 percent, 4.2 percent and 4.1 percent respectively.

EU countries with the highest child poverty rates are Italy with 16.6% of children living in poverty; Ireland with 15.7 percent and Portugual with 15.6%.

The worst overall are the US (21.9%) and Mexico (27.7%).

Hugh Frazer, a European Commission expert on the issue, said the report "challenges any complacency" about the rates of poverty and the belief "that a rising economic tide will solve all problems of social inclusion".

Remarking on the accusations that the Commission is pursuing a neo-liberal agenda to the detriment of social policy, Mr Frazer also said that the EU's commitment to social inclusion will become clear after EU leaders decide on the revised economic goals for the Union later this month.

At the other end of the poverty scale, nordic countries do the best. Denmark tops the league with 2.4 percent followed by Finland with a 2.8 percent child poverty rate.

According to Ms Santos Pais, "governments have the capacity to reduce child poverty when they invest in social spending in a sustained manner" - as is the case with Nordic countries.

She also pointed out that putting the issue high on the political agenda also brings results - a case proved by the UK.

Political priority
Although the UK has a high rate of child poverty (15.4%), it has made the issue a political priority which means, says the report, that its first target of a 25 percent reduction by 2004/5 is likely to be met.

According to UNICEF, child poverty has longterm negative effects on society.

"There is a strong statistical correlation between poverty in childhood and a variety of very well documented problems in later life. The likelihood of poor health, of educational underachievement, of dropping out of school early and of long-term welfare dependence", said Peter Adamson of UNICEF.

The report acknowledges the difficulty of deciding on factors to measure poverty but quotes Amercian Sociologist Susan Mayer who has written that "income is positively correlated with virtually every dimension of child well-being that social scientists measure, and this is true for every country for which we have data".