In 2019, nearly one in five children in the EU was affected by poverty. While that statistic is worrying enough in its own right, we know that the post-Covid-19 period will elevate poverty in Europe into a new dimension. Globally, the pandemic is expected to push another 90 million children into poverty, and the EU will not be exempt from this.
It is no secret: being poor leads to social exclusion. Children of parents who may now lose their jobs and their homes are mercilessly exposed to this reality. For them, the vicious cycle can only be broken through decisive political action and state support. The new European Child Guarantee adopted last year represents a vital and positive step in that fight for greater equality.
During the pandemic, we saw how free state services are essential for poorer families. Closed schools and the absence of free canteen meals and activities caused massive problems for children of deprived families. For some, their meal from school was the only warm meal they could expect in a day.
“It is no secret: being poor leads to social exclusion. Children of parents who may now lose their jobs and their homes are mercilessly exposed to this reality”
All children in Europe must have the right of free access to healthy food, clean drinking water, adequate housing, healthcare, education, care and leisure activities. This is what the new European Child Guarantee is calling on Member States to guarantee. In our resolution, the European Parliament emphasised that these free services must be genuinely accessible to all children, irrespective of their socioeconomic status, their ethnic and religious origins and regardless of any disabilities or a migration background.
We therefore urge Member States to eradicate any discrimination in access to free and high-quality childcare, education and healthcare, as well as to adequate housing, healthy food and leisure activities. Here, special attention must also be paid to children with disabilities who represent 15 per cent of children in the EU. In particular, relatives responsible for care must be supported and assisted, and attention must be paid to the targeted strengthening of inclusive pathways.
Disadvantaged families need targeted support to enable them to access equal opportunities. In all the efforts made on the part of Member States, it is important to think in terms of a life cycle - from the first breath in hospital to vocational orientation - so that children can later enjoy their full rights in the EU.
We also need to move away from the classic image of the family and consider diversely. This is why it was particularly important to me to explicitly highlight the needs of single parents and LGBTIQ+ families in the resolution.
The challenge now is to make sure the EU Child Guarantee becomes more than an empty promise. In Porto, European leaders committed to reduce child poverty by 5 million by 2030. In order to make the EU Child guarantee a reality, we must make sure that Member States use EU funds in the right way by closely monitoring their spending.
“Leaders must seize this moment, and place children at the heart of their recovery plans. Children are the future of the EU and our democracy”
This also means investing. We Greens urged that Member States should generally go above the 5 percent of the resources set out in the European Social Fund+, no matter how high the level of child poverty is in the country. This should help them to comply with the Action Plan for the European Pillar of Social Rights. Indeed, the new German government has already announced a Child Guarantee on national level; other Member States must now follow.
Housing also remains a core issue in the fight against poverty. Adequate, properly-heated housing with safe water and sanitation are key elements in a child’s healthy development. We therefore call on Member States to ensure children’s right to adequate housing by providing appropriate support to parents facing difficulties in maintaining or accessing housing and to strengthen social housing. The Social Climate Fund should also help renovate the worst-performing buildings, in order to take a long-term perspective to lifting families out of energy poverty and including deprived families in the fight against climate change.
Fundamentally, we need an overarching European anti-poverty strategy with ambitious targets for reducing poverty and homelessness and ending extreme poverty in Europe by 2030, particularly among children. Leaders must seize this moment, and place children at the heart of their recovery plans. Children are the future of the EU and our democracy.