Every country in Europe is signatory to the United Nations Convention for the Right of the Child. But it seems that European leaders are suffering a serious case of amnesia when we look at the deteriorating situation of children across the continent. Far from cushioning children and families from the worst effects of the crisis, governments are introducing austerity measures that scale back welfare support for families, cut funding for basic public services, and withdraw support from the voluntary sector. These are among the latest findings of a survey on the impact of the crisis on children and families in Europe released by Eurochild today (1).
As the European Union gears up for its 2nd Annual Convention of the European Platform Against Poverty(2), Eurochild asks the question: what will be the long-term cost of Europe ignoring the rights and well-being of its children?
"Europe's future political, economic and social stability depends on all children being supported in reaching their full potential" said Jana Hainsworth, Secretary General of Eurochild. "But we are witnessing a trend towards stigmatisation of struggling families and a move away from universal benefits and service provision which will only widen existing gaps in society and force more and more children into the margins."
Latest data from Eurostat show the numbers of people living in poverty is escalating to epidemic levels (3). And children are among those most likely to experience poverty. In its recently launched Annual Growth Survey 2013 the European Commission gives priority to addressing the social consequences of the crisis but within an overall context of promoting fiscal consolidation through spending cuts and an emphasis on activation and employment measures. "Whilst the Europe 2020 strategy was conceived as a balanced approach to smart, sustainable and inclusive growth, the EU continues to sleep walk down the path of market liberalisation within an unsustainable growth paradigm." concludes Ms Hainsworth.
Eurochild is advocating for governments to step up investment in high quality 'enabling' services that support all children and families and promote inclusive societies. This includes pre-natal and post-natal health care, early childhood services, family and parenting support, as well as education that is geared towards the development of the child's full personality and capacities. We firmly believe that such services should not be seen as a cost but as an investment. Such an approach will save public money in the medium- to long-term as there will be a reduced burden on the health sector, child protection, juvenile justice, social welfare services as well as fewer school drop outs and more engaged citizens. Prevention is always better than the cure.
Eurochild believes that the European Union has an important role to play. It is important for priority setting, for offering policy guidance, and for enabling member states to benchmark their performance against others. The forthcoming EC Recommendation on Child Poverty and Well-being will be an important landmark. Furthermore the EU structural funds are a critical mechanism for supporting policy reforms at member state level. The next multi-annual financial framework offers a unique opportunity to match funding with EU policy priorities of poverty reduction, social inclusion and child well-being.
(1) To download Eurochild's report on the impact of the crisis click here.
(2) Eurochild's partner "Investing in Children" will present the Crisis Update in a 'speed-dating' exercise at the Convention. "Investing in Children" works with a membership scheme that recognizes and rewards services which engage in a dialogue within children & where that dialogue actually improves the quality of the service. It's an innovative approach that currently works across the county of Durham (North-East England) but has also been applied in the Isle of Man and Ireland. Eurochild is working with "Investing in Children" and the "European Child Rights Unit" at Liverpool Law School to explore ways in which this approach can be transferred and adapted to other countries.
(3) Latest Eurostat data from 3 December 2012 states that 119.6 million people, or 24.2% of the population, in the EU27 were at risk of poverty or social exclusion in 2011. This means an increase of more than 4 million people since 2010. Find the Eurostat Press Release here.