More than 1 in 5 children live in poverty in 40 of the world’s richest countries
Bulgaria has made some progress in child poverty reduction, but still has one of the highest rates, according to UNICEF’s latest Report Card
Sofia, 6 December 2023 – Some of the world’s richest countries experienced sharp rises in child poverty between 2014 and 2021, according to data published today by UNICEF Innocenti – Global Office of Research and Foresight.
Report Card 18: Child Poverty in the Midst of Wealth – the latest in the series looking at children’s well-being in OECD and EU countries – finds that Poland and Slovenia are faring best in efforts to tackle child poverty, followed by Latvia and the Republic of Korea. In contrast, some of the richest countries such as France, Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and the United kingdom saw sharp rises in child poverty between 2014-2012, according to the report.
The report presents the most up-to-date, comparable picture of poverty affecting children in OECD and EU countries, and analyses governments’ income support policies for families with children. It finds that, despite overall decreases in poverty by nearly 8 per cent across 40 countries between 2014 and 2021, there were still over 69 million children living in households earning less than 60 per cent of the average national income by the end of 2021.
>> See the full report here.
>> Download Executive summary here.
“The impacts of poverty on children are both persistent and damaging,” said Director of UNICEF Innocenti – Global Office of Research and Foresight, Bo Viktor Nylund. “For most children this means that they may grow up without enough nutritious food, clothes, school supplies, or a warm place to call home. It prevents the fulfillment of rights and can lead to poor physical and mental health.”
The consequences of poverty can last a lifetime. Children who experience poverty have less chance of completing school and earn lower wages as adults. In some countries, a person born in a deprived area is likely to live eight to nine years less than a person born in a wealthy area, according to the report.
According to the findings, 2012 to 2019 saw stable economic growth among this group of countries, presenting an opportunity to recover from the impacts of the 2008-10 recession. However, while a number of countries reduced child poverty during this time, some of the wealthiest countries saw the biggest backward slides. The report also shows that countries with similar levels of national income, such as Slovenia and Spain, have stark differences in their child poverty rates - 10 per cent and 28 per cent respectively.
Children’s living conditions can be improved regardless of a country’s wealth, the report notes. For example, Poland, Slovenia, Latvia, and Lithuania – not among the richest OECD and EU countries – have achieved important reductions in child poverty, minus 38 per cent in Poland and minus 31 per cent in the other countries. Meanwhile, five higher income countries – the United Kingdom (+20 per cent) and France, Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland (all around +10 per cent) – saw the greatest increases in the number of children living in households experiencing financial hardship since 2014.
In Bulgaria, child poverty was reduced by 8.3% from 2014 to 2021, but remains one of the highest in the EU – 26.1% or more than one in four children lives in poverty. The country has also reduced by half the share of children living in severe material deprivation – from 42% in 2015 to 19.2% in 2022, but its level is still much higher that the EU 27-average of 8.4.%.
The report also highlights huge inequalities in poverty risks. Across 38 countries with available data, children living in a lone-parent family are over three times as likely to be living in poverty as other children. Children with disabilities and from minority ethnic/racial backgrounds are also at higher-than-average risk. The Deep Dive Analysis of Child Poverty and Social Exclusion in Bulgaria, conducted by UNICEF in 2021, shows a similar picture in Bulgaria where large households with three or more children, single parent households, Roma children and children with disabilities are at higher risk of poverty.
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.
A key instrument for combatting child poverty and fostering equal opportunities is the European Child Guarantee, adopted in June 2021, which aims to provide every EU child in need free with access to key services, such as early childhood education and care, education and school-based activities, at least one healthy meal each school day, healthcare, healthy nutrition and decent housing.
Bulgaria was one of the seven EU Member States, selected by the European Commission for testing the European Child Guarantee at national level with support from UNICEF. From October 2020 to March 2023, the pilot project has supported more than 17,000 children and 11,000 parents in Bulgaria and has informed the development of the National Action Plan for ECG 2030, which was adopted by the Bulgarian Government in October 2022.
‘We are pleased that Bulgaria adopted an ambitious national goal to reduce the number of children living at risk of poverty and social exclusion by 197,000 by 2030. UNICEF will continue to support national efforts for improving child well-being and for reaching the most vulnerable children with the support they need, said Christina de Bruin, UNICEF Representative in Bulgaria.
UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone.
For more information about UNICEF and its work for children visit www.unicef.org