Children in Ukraine account for 18 per cent of the population, but 45 per cent of the poor. Poverty has lifelong consequences for children: a child living in poverty is more likely to be poor as an adult. Much of the deprivation experienced by the most disadvantaged children in Ukraine goes beyond poverty, but is linked to having disabilities, being girls or belonging to minorities.
Despite relatively high government spending on social safety nets (4.9 per cent of GDP) coverage of the poorest and adequacy of benefits are insufficient. This is mainly because Ukraine’s social protection system is a combination of welfare programmes inherited from the Soviet Union and many additional benefits that are predominantly categorical, fragmented, often with overlapping objectives and poorly adapted to current needs.
Ukraine initiated decentralization reform in 2015 to make government more accountable to the population and ensure that needs are met, and rights fulfilled in this large and diverse country. While power is being shifted downwards, newly formed local authorities are receiving greater responsibilities for service delivery, and often higher budgets. However, decentralization has also brought numerous challenges and conflicting priorities. For example, local authorities generally prioritize economic affairs (such as roads and utilities), over social services (social protection and health).
For any country, investing in children, including child-sensitive social protection is crucial. Effective social welfare mitigates poverty’s effects, strengthens families in their child care role, and enhances access to basic services for the poorest and most marginalized. Fundamentally, providing adequate investments to enable children to thrive is a moral imperative. Investing in children also has the potential to benefit their families, their communities and yield positive benefits to economies and societies as a whole.