Countries in Europe and Central Asia have seen impressive economic growth over the past 20 years, alongside improved standards of living and a halving of the number of people living in poverty. But progress has masked persistent equity gaps, with the benefits of economic advances shared unevenly.
Children are more likely to be poor than adults. And some children are more likely to be poor than others, particularly children with disabilities, children from larger families and those in remote rural areas. Roma children also suffer disproportionately from poverty and remain one of the poorest groups in the region: a Roma child is twice as likely to grow up in poverty as a non-Roma child.
The legacy of child poverty can last a lifetime.
Children who do not reach their full potential cannot contribute fully to social, political and economic growth, and those who grow up in poverty are more likely to be poor when they are older, perpetuating a cycle of poverty and disadvantage.
It is in every government’s long-term interest to invest in children and in child-sensitive social protection to prevent, manage and overcome the poverty that threatens their well-being. Social protection includes cash transfers, such as child benefits to shield children from the worst impacts of poverty, as well as integrated systems to provide vulnerable children and families with the extra support and care they need.
Too many children are still denied social protection to ease the impact of poverty.
While there has been an increase in social protection to meet the needs of children in the region, too many are still being left behind. Governments are cutting their spending on social protection, with benefits for children and families being eroded by austerity measures in the wake of the global financial crisis.
On average, only around 10 per cent of social protection expenditure in the region goes to child and family benefits. Those benefits are usually too small to lift families out of poverty, and many people in need are still excluded from them entirely.
The roots of the problem lie in a mix of:
- a failure to prioritize the social protection programmes that have the greatest benefits for children
- limited budgets and human resources
- barriers such as bureaucratic processes and lack of information about entitlements and programmes, and
- discrimination against the most vulnerable people, including those who receive social protection.
The result: the most vulnerable children in the region are not being reached by benefits to which they are entitled.