UNICEF Report Reveals High Child Poverty Rates in Europe's Wealthiest Countries

The United Kingdom ranked almost last in the list of wealthy countries fighting child poverty, coming in just above Columbia and Turkey. Slovenia topped the rankings.  

New data published by UNICEF reveals that some of the world's wealthiest countries witnessed significant increases in child poverty from 2014 to 2021. The "Child Poverty in the Midst of Wealth" report card delivers startling results, placing countries like the UK, Spain, and Luxembourg at the bottom of the charts.

Contrastingly, less affluent nations like Poland and Slovenia are demonstrating more success in addressing child poverty, followed closely by Latvia and the Republic of Korea. This unexpected trend highlights a concerning disparity in child poverty rates, indicating that economic affluence does not necessarily correlate with positive outcomes for children in some of the world's wealthiest nations.

The impacts of poverty on children are both persistent and damaging 
                       - Bo Viktor Nylund-
Director of UNICEF Innocenti                     

The study provides the most current and comparable overview of child poverty in OECD and EU countries, examining government income support policies for families with children. Despite an overall reduction in poverty by nearly 8% across 40 countries from 2014 to 2021, the report reveals that over 69 million children were still living in households earning less than 60% of the average national income by the end of 2021.

UNICEF Innocenti Director Bo Viktor Nylund emphasized the persistent and damaging effects of poverty on children, affecting their access to essential needs like nutritious food, clothing, school supplies, and a warm home. This deprivation hinders the fulfillment of their rights and can lead to long-term impacts on physical and mental health.

The consequences of childhood poverty extend into adulthood, limiting educational attainment and resulting in lower wages. Shockingly, in some countries, individuals born in deprived areas face a life expectancy that is eight to nine years shorter than those born in affluent areas, as per the report.

Furthermore, the study underscores significant disparities in poverty risks. Children in lone-parent families, across 38 countries with available data, are more than three times as likely to be in poverty compared to their peers. Additionally, children with disabilities and those from minority ethnic/racial backgrounds face an elevated risk of poverty, highlighting the urgent need for targeted interventions to address these inequalities.

Wealth does not dictate child's living condition

The findings indicate that from 2012 to 2019, there was stable economic growth among a group of countries, providing an opportunity for recovery from the impacts of the 2008-2010 recession. Despite overall economic stability, certain affluent nations experienced significant setbacks in terms of child poverty during this period.

The report highlights a notable disparity in child poverty rates among countries with comparable levels of national income. For instance, Slovenia and Spain, both with similar national income levels, exhibit stark differences in their child poverty rates—10% in Slovenia compared to 28% in Spain. This underscores that economic prosperity alone does not guarantee uniform progress in addressing child poverty and emphasizes the need for targeted efforts and policies within each specific national context.

    A lot can be learned from the successes of different countries
                        - Bo Viktor Nylund-
UNICEF Innocenti   

The report emphasizes that improvements in children's living conditions are achievable irrespective of a country's wealth. Examples from Poland, Slovenia, Latvia, and Lithuania, which are not among the wealthiest OECD and EU nations, demonstrate substantial reductions in child poverty. Poland, in particular, witnessed a remarkable 38% decrease, while the other countries experienced reductions of around 31%.

Conversely, despite being higher-income countries, the United Kingdom saw a notable 20% increase in child poverty. Similarly, France, Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland all experienced around a 10% rise in the number of children living in households facing financial hardship since 2014. This underscores the point that economic affluence alone does not determine the trajectory of child poverty rates, and specific national policies and interventions play a crucial role in shaping outcomes.

How to solve the problem

  • To eradicate child poverty, the Report Card calls on governments and stakeholders to urgently:

  • Expand social protection for children, including child and family benefits to supplement families’ household income.

  • Ensure all children have access to quality basic services, like childcare and free education, that are essential to their well-being.

  • Create employment opportunities with adequate pay and family-friendly policies, such as paid parental leave, to support parents and caregivers in balancing work and care responsibilities.

  • Ensure that there are measures adapted to the specific needs of minority groups and single-headed households, to facilitate access to social protection, key services, and decent work, and reduce inequalities.

The report states that a lot can be learnt from the success 

"How we use this learning will determine how effectively we can ensure children’s well-being today and in the future,” concluded Nylund.