Mr Palm's speech during the launch of the study: “Social assistance, investment in poverty reduction and improvement of health and nutrition status of children” on 10 May 2012
Where does poverty come from? Is it inevitable that a person born in a rural area must be poor? Of course not. Is anybody who will lose a job become poor? Certainly not. If I or you become unemployed, we still have our networks, we can use what we learned, we can influence our environment, or live a short while from our savings.
Poverty is the result of certain conditions. Take a child from parents with low education. They may do their job and do it well, but they may not think their child will ever make it to a better life. They may not encourage their child to go to school. The child may drop out. Although she could be a scientist, she may end up with a low paying job, too.
All doctors know, that babies who do not receive all the necessary vitamins will not develop to their full potential. The brain does not develop to its full extent. Those children are not likely to do well in school. They may have to live in poverty for the rest of their life. In contrast, parents who are smart enough to give their children nutritious food will help the child to succeed.
Consider a child from a poor family, with some difficult family background. The child will find it difficult to socialize with other children; the parents may not talk as frequently with the child to solve some problem. The child does not speak up when you have to speak up; it does not learn to negotiate. He will find it difficult to present himself to get a decent job and he is not well connected to friends or the community. There is a great likelihood that the boy remains poor as an adult.
My message is simple. Poverty reduction starts with children. When children eat nutritious food, get medical treatment when they need it, learn something useful and have the opportunity to socialize and network, they will succeed in life. They will succeed in life, even if they live in a family who is poor.
We cannot accept, that a child born to poor parents does not have the opportunities that other children have.
Social Assistance is an important benefit for people who cannot help themselves any more. But today's study is quite clear. Ndihma Ekonomike does not change the condition under which children of poor families grow up. For most recipients, Ndihma Ekonomike does not help to get medical treatment for their children, and it does not significantly assist children to attend school. It doesn’t buy the vitamins – and it doesn’t help children to make friends and participate in the community.
Social assistance schemes are constantly reviewed, not only in Albania. I like to commend government for the reforms planned and underway. But my message today is that “social assistance must work for children”. Social assistance must create the conditions for children to be healthy, eat well and learn – even if they continue to live in poor families.
There are many ways to go about it, and we can try them out: food packages for young children of very poor parents; free kindergarten for poor parents or single mothers; special efforts to keep children in school; facilitating the socialization of children in poor neighbourhoods. A reform of social services, where children at risk of neglect are systematically supported, will go a long way.
You may wonder who is going to pay for this. As an earlier study has shown, the current levels of malnutrition cost the Albanian economy 100 million Dollar annually. Albania is losing 100 million Dollar every year, because children do not get properly fed. For every dollar invested in improving children's nutrition, Albania will get four to sixteen Dollar in return, in terms of better productivity.
Not investing money in better nutrition, health care or education for children of poor families means losing much more money in the long run.
Some, but not all the costs for this have to come from the budget of Ndihma Ekonomike. The Ministry of Education can direct its efforts to the poorest. The Ministry of Health can do so. Local governments can do the same.
If we want to break the transmission of poverty from one generation to the next, we cannot wait for the adults to become rich. We need to help the children, to eat well, find treatment when ill, and learn from their early years, even if they live in families who are poor.