Spotlight

Fighting child poverty in European cities

20 January 2021

Children are the future, so they say. Well, the future is looking bleak. The COVID-19 pandemic has already had a devastating impact on children: disrupting schooling, affecting well-being, social contact and even nutrition. As more parents lose their income, child poverty is increasing.

In fact, even before the pandemic, child poverty levels were already high in cities – often much higher than national averages, which is why many cities have already been finding innovative ways to combat it, as outlined in two new publications by Eurocities.

How to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty?

Every child deserves the opportunity to realise their full potential, regardless of their background or where they live. However, evidence collected by Eurocities shows that the socio-economic situation of families and the neighbourhoods where they live are still strong predictors of a child’s future opportunities. Consequently, there is a need to increase policy action and social investments in children to close the gap in access to services and break the cycle of poverty faced by millions of children in Europe.

Cities play a key role in doing this. To break the vicious cycle of the inheritance of poverty, it is not enough to focus on children in isolation from their parents; the family as a whole must be considered, according to the network. Improving the situation of children depends on improving the situation of their family, whether by getting them out of debt, helping parents get a good job with fair pay, or by heating or renovating their homes. Another way that cities do this is to mainstream the principle of equal opportunities across services, from formal and non-formal education to housing, healthcare, welfare, employment, culture and public space. This, says the cities network, is a model that should be followed at national and EU Level.

City pledges on the European Pillar of Social Rights

In line with Eurocities ‘Inclusive Cities 4 All’ campaign to make budgetary commitments to enact the principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights, mayors and deputy mayors from 18 cities in Europe have so far signed pledges to reinforce childcare and support for children in line with principle 11. And the examples of what cities are doing is varied and innovative.

Take Leeds: the city’s child poverty strategy focuses on creating ‘partnerships’ made up of children and young people, council directorates, schools, and third sector, private sector, public sector and community representatives. These partnerships use their knowledge and expertise to investigate the impact of poverty on a specific area of children’s lives, and then work together to create projects that mitigate this impact.

Or take Ljubljana’s model to make childcare and preschool education affordable and accessible for all: The city subsidises childcare and preschool for all families and has increased capacity in public nurseries by 3,000 places. For the families with the lowest incomes, childcare is free. An additional subsidy is offered to parents with a housing loan. The city also ensures subsidised or free holiday childcare, free after-school activities, and free school lunches for children in need.

Warsaw’s model for integrating services into the local support system offers a family assistant who accompanies a family in overcoming a difficult life situation. The emphasis is to build a supportive environment and a social support network, through the help of the family assistant, to engage children in healthy and confidence-building activities. The key point is to offer alternative patterns than those observed in the home environment and help the family adapt in order to foster resilience and well-being.

Despite efforts like these, a Eurocities’ survey reveals that the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on children means these municipal resources are no longer sufficient, and child poverty is on the rise. Cities can no longer bear the burden of child poverty alone, they need more resources and financial support from the EU and national governments to increase social investments at local level, says the network.

EU Child Guarantee

The upcoming EU Child Guarantee promises to reduce child poverty by making more EU and national resources available to invest in children.

In a new position paper, Eurocities calls for it to:

  • Support local Child Guarantee schemes to address the specific needs of children at local level through an integrated local plan connecting services for education, childcare, healthcare and housing with employment, social and family services to cover the gaps in access to services at local level.
  • Boost local level social investment in children by allocating sufficient resources from EU and national budgets to cities and allowing flexible use of the resources where needed the most at local level.
  • Involve cities as key partners in developing and delivering the Child Guarantee. Ensure multi-level governance with joint responsibility and coordinated strategies between local, national and EU levels.

Read the Eurocities policy position on the EU Child Guarantee here.

Read the Eurocities research paper on the situation in cities for children here.

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