Invest in better social protection for the most disadvantaged children: UNICEF
Low public spending, ineffective social protection policies and programmes are hampering progress for children in Central and Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia
GENEVA/TIRANA, 20 April 2016 — Children who are falling furthest behind in society benefit the most when countries invest in more effective social protection, according to a new UNICEF Report launched today.
The Social Monitor: Social Protection for Child Rights and Wellbeing in Central and Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia report consolidates recent evidence on trends and patterns of change in child poverty and the impact of social protection on children in 30 countries and territories in the region.
It highlights key challenges that the region faces in meeting the social protection needs of children and shares UNICEF recommendations on how to tackle them. Social protection for children includes cash assistance, subsidies for health or education services, counselling and social work, and parental leave.
The report found children are doing better in the region than 20 years ago but too many children are still living in poor households, deprived of basic necessities, excluded from services, communities and societies.
Key findings include:
- Cash benefits in the region are increasingly reaching children and families who need them. However, too many children in need are still not covered, especially if they come from disadvantaged groups. Among the most vulnerable and discriminated are children with disabilities, children from ethnic and linguistic minorities, and children affected by migration.
- What children and families receive, in most countries and territories of the region, is not making a difference in their lives.
- Parents with low incomes or without a job do not get quality social support to help them deal with family conflicts or connect with available benefits and services, including training and employment opportunities.
“Countries that spend and focus more of their social protection for children and families are the most successful at reducing child poverty,” said Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF Regional Director and Special Coordinator for the Refugee and Migrant Crisis in Europe.
Hungary, for instance, achieves an over 25 per cent reduction in the rate of children at risk of poverty and has very high levels of spending on family benefits (13 per cent of total social protection expenditure). Croatia and Romania show similar correlations.
“Social protection is a right, not a handout. When countries invest in better social protection for children and families, everybody benefits from a more productive, fairer society,” she said.
Children in Albania remain disproportionally affected by poverty. Between 2002 and 2012, the incidence of national poverty decreased from 25.4 to 14.3 per cent whereas the child poverty rate stood at 20.1 per cent. UNICEF-supported in-depth analysis of child poverty in 2013 and 2015 highlighted multiple dimensions of child deprivation rooted in poverty.
Among the lowest in the region, the level of investments in social protection at 1.6 per cent of GDP is primarily contributing to cash assistance, with minimal investment in social support and care services. The social protection institutional mechanisms has been lacking the systemic approach required to respond to the multi-dimensional nature of poverty, deprivation and underlying vulnerability drivers that children and families may face in the course of their lives.
Since 2013, with funding support from the Swiss Government, UNICEF has been supporting the Albanian Government to create what until now has not existed in this country – a fully functioning and sustainable system of Social Care Services. By the end of 2016, through this reform, Albania should have in place a system, which can meet its long-term vision – the ability to protect and support its most vulnerable and at-risk families and children.
As shown by the Social Monitor Report, providing a minimum package of cash benefits and social support services for families with children is correlated with the reduction of inequity and child income poverty.
Key recommendations outlined in the report are:
- Simplify application procedures to available cash assistance and social support.
- Inform children and families about the social protection benefits and expand coverage for the most vulnerable.
- Ensure that cash assistance is enough to make a difference for children.
- Provide qualified social support to parents to cope with job loses or economic shocks.
- Link different support services available so that vulnerable children get quality education, nutrition and health care, and live in a caring and protective family environment.
- Monitor and analyze if the support provided improves children’s lives.
- Address discrimination towards families and children recipients of social protection through legislative changes, comprehensive awareness campaigns, and training of service providers.
To download the report: http://www.unicef.org/ceecis/Social_Monitor_Regional_Report.pdf
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit www.unicef.org.