Economy, Europe, Globe

Childhood, victim of austerity

While EU governments impose austerity policies to deal with the economic crisis, various organisations warn of the negative repercussions of these measures for children and youths.


Martha Andrés Román


The Investing in Children Conference, preventing and tackling child poverty and social exclusion, organised by Cyprus on 18 and 19 October focussed on the importance of changing outlooks in aid of children’s well being.

At the event, the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions warned that the social repercussions of austerity measures in all of Europe have had a proportionally more negative impact on vulnerable groups of society.

According to official information some 27% of people under the age of 18 live at risk of poverty and social exclusion, this figure is greater figure than that of all other age groups at 23.5%.

Since last May, Unicef had indicated that one in four children in the Europe lived on the threshold of poverty: mainly those in single parent families or in big families, those with unemployed parents, immigrants or those belonging to ethnic minorities.

In nations like Spain, Greece and Portugal, where rigorous cuts are being applied because they are worst affected by the recession, the situation is worst; but the outlook is also complicated in the richest countries of the region.

According to the Spanish section of Unicef, some 2,260,000 children were living below the threshold of poverty in the country last year.  This figure represents an increase of 80 thousand young people in comparison with that of 2010.

These statistics, explained the organisation, indicate that there is a total of 700 thousand families with children in which neither parent works, while some 14.4% of those live in homes with a high poverty index.

Paloma Escudero

“A poor child in Spain goes to school, of course they go to school, but they don’t have access to extra curricular activities and the support that they need,  in a country with such a high rate of high school dropouts” expressed the president of Unicef of this Iberian nation, Paloma Escudero.

In the Greek case, more than 439 thousand infants live in miserable conditions; of these 37% live in homes with serious difficulties in meeting their basic daily needs.

A study by the Greek Unicef committee estimates that while one in every five homes live below the poverty threshold, this situation worsens among families with children to 28.7%.

With regard to young people, 23% are under-nourished, and have a lack of resources to meet their daily needs or live in unsanitary spaces that prevent proper development and formation. In the report, the organisation viewed that the austerity policies that cause unemployment, cuts in salary and pension, united in the increase in tax burden for families are pushing both working and middle classes towards social exclusion.

The situation is no less complicated in Portugal, a nation in which 27% of under 16s find themselves in conditions of poverty.

Ana Figueiras, president of non-governmental organisation (NGO) Ciudadanos del Mundo (Citizens of the World), thinks that the drastic cuts in funding this type of entity decided by the government of Pedro Passos Coelho “will further aggravate the dramatic situation”.

It is not the state, but our NGO’s that develop the most effective plans for protecting children, advises Figueiras; who recalls that the children of illegal immigrants are the most vulnerable now that access to the public health service is denied.

However, among member states of the EU some Eastern nations are those that present the most complicated scenarios.  Indeed the biggest number of children on the line of poverty is found in Romania with 46 percent, followed by Bulgaria (44.6%) and Latvia (42%).

Even at the opposite extreme, you find countries like Finland with 14% of youths on the line of poverty, with Switzerland (14.5%) Denmark (15%) and Slovenia (15%) following.  And the big economies of the region like the UK with 29%, France (23%) and Germany (22%) also present alarming risks.

Also, the NGO SOS Children’s Villages stated that austerity measures and cuts have influenced an increase in abandoned babies and children, especially in countries like Greece or Italy.

According to the organisation, across Europe an increase in the number of so called ‘baby boxes’ have been registered, containers created with the aim of avoiding cases of uncontrolled abandonment and abortions in which unplanned newborns are given over anonymously.

SOS Children’s Villages estimated that the total expenditure of bringing up a child in this region would be between 20 and 30% of the average family budget, this is difficult for many parents to take on in the middle of the current economic scenario in the EU.

Alarm bells ring: the circumstances don’t show sign of improvement after the EC informed that during 2012 the economies of households in the EU had perhaps worsened.  Unemployment levels are at 10.4% and reach 22.5% among young people.

At the end of October, the executive of the trading bloc which assigns six figure sums to rescuing banks and big companies, proposed to set aside two thousand and 500 million euros to a new program giving food to the most needy Europeans during the period between 2014-2020.

According to the European Commission of Labour and Social Insurance, the intention of the EC is that the program focuses especially on “removing young homeless people and those in the situation of material deprivation from the vicious cycle of poverty”. ç

However, such a proposition will prove impossible if it is taken into account that the Commission estimates in only four million as the total number of people to benefit from the program, adding both European funds and national funds.

Consequently, the future seems to be unhopeful for children and young people when governments, focussed in fighting against the recession and deficit at all costs, seem to turn their backs on the needs of their citizens.

(Translated by Morven Paterson – Email: morvenpaterson@gmail.com).

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