“If we want to avoid social fragmentation and social dumping in Europe, then Member States should agree on the European Pillar of Social Rights as soon as possible and at the latest at the Gothenburg Summit in November” said European Commission President Juncker in his 2017 State of the European Union address. This Friday, 17th November, Juncker and Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Löfven will host Heads of State and Governments and EU leaders in Gothenburg to discuss and promote Europe’s social dimension. The European Pillar of Social Rights, the Commission’s key social initiative, will be proclaimed. This marks a high-level political commitment to the Social Pillar’s three main categories: equal opportunities; fair working conditions; social protection and inclusion.

So, where do Children’s Rights feature? Children are focused on in Principle 11, sitting within the third category of the Pillar – social protection and inclusion. This Principle states that:

“Children have the right to affordable early childhood education and care of good quality. Children have the right to protection from poverty. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds have the right to specific measures to enhance equal opportunities.”

Save the Children welcomes this first step, and its focus on education, quality care, protection from poverty and equal opportunities for all children. Other principles from the third category that are key to promote children’s rights and reduce child poverty are: social protection, minimum income benefits, health care, housing and assistance for the homeless, and access to essential services.

Now, it’s time for EU institutions and Member States to put their money where their mouth is. They need to pledge investment in children if they are serious about upholding this principle. During the consultation process over the last year, Save the Children has recommended how to improve children’s lives in Europe, particularly those most vulnerable to poverty and exclusion: by mainstreaming children’s rights across all policy areas, by rolling out measures to eradicate child poverty, including guaranteeing social protection, not only for workers, but also for children and their families.

Child poverty in Europe is not a rare misfortune. It is the daily reality lived by more than 25 million children across Europe. If a child is living in poverty, he or she is more likely to be ill, to not go to school, to miss out on secondary education, and to fail to reach his or her potential. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds are particularly vulnerable to social exclusion and being left behind. Poverty affects children in a different way to adults and its consequences can last a life-time.

“What does poverty mean to you?” we asked children from our programmes for our latest report, Ending Child Poverty in Europe. It means going to school on an empty stomach, children replied. It means feeling stressed because my parents can’t pay the rent; spending winter in a cold home or a cold school, they said. Being poor means not having enough money to buy a book, and not daring to have hopes and dreams.[1]

If the EU is serious about making social rights stronger in Europe, serious about implementing the Sustainable Development Goals within Europe, then it needs to prioritise investment in children and drastically reduce child poverty in Europe.

Zooming in on a few countries shows a stark picture – in Italy, Save the Children reports today that 1 child out of 8 lives live in absolute poverty, for a total of 1,292,000 children across the country; a number that has doubled between 2009 and 2016. There are five times as many families living in absolute poverty in Italy now than there were 10 years ago: from 2% in 2006 to 9.9% in 2016. Households with many children, young parents’ households and migrant households are particularly vulnerable to poverty.

In Spain, 32.9% of children are in risk of poverty and exclusion (AROPE), andnearly half of all Roma children do not complete secondary education.

Recent research in Sweden showed that at least 5,390 children in the 25 largest municipalities are homeless.Several municipalities believe a large number of cases go unrecorded but lack the resources or opportunity to map the situation.  

As the Commission stressed, the Pillar is built on existing EU policy guidance, rights and legislation. It should ensure therefore that the Recommendation Investing in children: breaking the cycle of disadvantageis thoroughly implemented, supported by EU funds. The European Commission should strongly encourage Member States to change policies at national, regional and municipal level to promote investment in children throughout the European Semester. The European Social Policy Network (ESPN) regularly provides the Commission with analysis on social policies across Europe; in the ESPN’s recent report assessing the implementation of the Recommendation between 2013 and 2017 across Europe, it is clear that the measures taken at EU level to tackle child poverty are inadequate and incomplete.

As we approach the next Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) – the long-term budget of the EU that identifies investment priorities – we need to ensure adequate resources are allocated for poverty reduction and social inclusion. The next MFF should prioritise investment in children and those families most vulnerable to poverty.

Save the Children strongly calls on all EU institutions and Member States to be ambitious in the implementation of the Pillar and their investment in children. If we fail to invest in children through affordable, inclusive, quality and accessible services and strong social protection, we risk leaving the most vulnerable children behind. At risk is the Pillar becoming a dusty and theoretical document, unrelated to the reality of those children living in poverty in Europe.

[1] Save the Children (2016) Ending educational and child poverty in Europe.