“In Rotterdam, the poverty is the highest in the Netherlands, and the rate for children growing up in poverty is 18%,” says Michiel Grauss, Vice Mayor in charge of poverty reduction, debt support and informal care in Rotterdam.
Indeed, the city has been successfully and steadily reducing child poverty from around one in four in 2008 to a target of one in six by 2022 – which was all very much on track, until the pandemic hit.
“Everyone who is vulnerable is affected the hardest by Covid-19,” says Grauss.
In general, around 20% of Rotterdam’s population lives in poverty, and the Vice Mayor expects that this will rise after the crisis, when new figures come in.
During the crisis, the city council has been working especially with three groups facing different debt issues, which it had not previously been able to fully map.
The first, families, is also tied to the issue of child poverty, which came to light especially in terms of home schooling. Many children were unable to complete their studies because they did not have access to the right equipment – and so, in partnership with local businesses, churches and NGOs, the city council organised a delivery of 4,000 laptops and notebooks and set up new WiFi hot spots, for example.
The second includes “students who don’t have financial resources and other groups”, says the Vice Mayor, “especially because students may earn €200-300 a month in Horeca establishments (bars, cafés and restaurants), which makes the difference between paying or not paying your rent. So we saw a big increase of students in problems.”
And the third group are flex workers and self-employed workers, the “working poor”, says Grauss – a group that was known about, but who were not fully on the radar of the social services because they would not have come forward to use the city services, which the city now knows numbers over 10,000 people.
In fact, Grauss says that with more people coming forwards, more is now known about poverty in the city. “But we don’t have the latest figures, and we think poverty will rise again a bit after the crisis,” he adds.
When it comes to working with children, the city is keen to invest in children’s social and emotional competence as well as in the participation of children by expanding opportunities for youth culture and other after school activities. Over the past four years, the number of children participating in youth culture activities has doubled.
And investment in children should be central, too, to the priorities of the European Pillar of Social Rights, according to the Vice Mayor, with specific emphasis to “reduce stress and mental health impact on children and families, support affordable public services and work together with local organisations as ‘places of trust’ and debt reduction.”
When it comes to the post-Covid recovery, Rotterdam has been very much involved in the national recovery plan. Even right from the beginning of the pandemic, Grauss says that the different levels of government, along with civil society such as mosques and churches, talked together on how best to help people.
His advice to others? “Don’t wait until the end of the crisis, act now.”
Listen to the full podcast interview here:
Rotterdam is one of the more than 40 cities to commit to Eurocities Inclusive Cities 4 All initiative, having made its own pledges on providing active support to employment and to tackle poverty.
The Eurocities Cities Social Summit, taking place next week, will discuss many of these topics, including the role that cities should play in delivering the European Pillar of Social Rights action plan, including the EU target on poverty reduction. Interested to learn more? Register here.