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Rapid economic growth since the transition in the 1990s up until 2008 has transformed our region. UNICEF is helping to influence economic and social policies that protect children, including the hardest to reach and the most vulnerable.
Primary education is almost universal. More and more children are being immunized and leading healthier lives. At the same time, income, ethnic and geographic inequalities have widened. Significant groups of children in each country continue to live below minimum living standards, stunted, not immunized or missing out on quality pre-school and education, maternal and child health and other essential services.
Across the region, the coverage of social assistance and social health insurance schemes is very low relative to the level of Gross Domestic Product and revenues available in many countries in the region. Benefits for families with many children are usually of limited value. Basic maternal and child health and education services, as well as alternative care facilities, at the local level can often be of poor-quality and under-funded.
Out-of-pocket spending in health exposes families to catastrophic health expenditures and poverty.
Low public investment in social assistance and health persists in the region, with out-of-pocket spending by families making up about 40-50 per cent of Total Health Expenditure, as high as 60-70 per cent in some counties, according to WHO European Health for all Database 2011. This exposes families to catastrophic health expenditures and poverty.
Against this backdrop, interest has increased among governments for devising sustainable social policies that deliver for all families and children whilst taking into account the specific conditions and legacies of transition countries. However, since 2008, the global financial and economic crisis has hit countries in this region particularly hard though unevenly. Fiscal constraints have made it more difficult for countries to meet their obligations to protect and promote children’s rights.
In response, UNICEF is helping governments develop effective social and economic policies that will help families and children who are poor, excluded and vulnerable, contributing to inclusive and sustainable growth.
UNICEF in action
Our work on Economic and Social Policy in the region has three main focus areas:
Progress so far
UNICEF`s work in Economic and Social Policy in the region has contributed to raising the attention of governments and international development partners, such as the European Union, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, to the issue of multi-dimensional child poverty.
Many countries are now monitoring child poverty across a number of dimensions on a regular basis through national survey data. Policy-makers at national and local level are increasingly using Devinfo databases and similar platforms for gathering evidence on children, developed with UNICEF support, to inform their policy decisions and budget allocations in all sectors affecting child wellbeing.
In several countries, UNICEF advocacy grounded in solid evidence has contributed to expanding the coverage and increasing the level of benefits of social assistance schemes covering poor families with children.
A few more are considering universal child benefits as an alternative policy option and have expanded their outreach services in health and education towards the most excluded populations.
Updated 28 May, 2011