Poverty is one the most serious human rights issue facing children today. The significant numbers of children directly experiencing poverty is very high and is growing. According to UNICEF, about one in three children across the world – roughly 663 million – live in households that are multidimensionally poor, meaning they lack necessities as basic as nutrition or clean water. Even in the world’s richest countries, one in seven children still live in poverty. The COVID-19 pandemic is sweeping even more people into poverty and the situation of those already living in poverty is worsening.
Today, one in four children in the European Union are at risk of falling into poverty. In 2018, an estimated 23.4 % of children in the EU-27 were at risk of falling into poverty compared with 22.1 % of adults (18–64) and 18.4 % of the elderly (65 or over). Although there are no reliable consolidated statistics for Council of Europe member States outside the European Union, it is estimated that the proportion of children living in poverty in these countries could be even higher.
The consequences are grave. Child poverty means deprivation in terms of goods and services that are regarded as customary in a given country as well as lacking opportunities to fully participate in education and in society. The lack of these basic needs often results in deficits that cannot easily be overcome later in life. Even when not clearly deprived, having poorer opportunities than their peers can limit future opportunities.
The European Social Charter sets out a wide range of rights with implications for State efforts to combat child poverty. The European Committee of Social Rights highlighted the issue of child poverty and social exclusion in its latest conclusions, published in March 2020. The Committee pointed out that the prevalence of child poverty in a State Party, whether defined or measured in either monetary or multidimensional terms, is an important indicator of the effectiveness of state efforts to ensure the right of children and young persons to social, legal and economic protection. The obligation of States Parties to take all appropriate and necessary measures to ensure that children and young persons have the assistance they need is strongly linked to measures directed towards the amelioration and eradication of child poverty and social exclusion.
The Committee asked States Parties to provide in their next report information on the measures adopted to reduce child poverty, including non-monetary measures such as ensuring access to quality and affordable services in the areas of health, education, housing, etc. Information should also be provided on measures focused on combatting discrimination against and promoting equal opportunities for children from particularly vulnerable groups such as ethnic minorities, Roma children, children with disabilities, and children in care.
- Conclusions 2019 of the European Committee of Social Rights relating to Article 17 of the 1961 Charter and Article 17§1 of the Revised Charter
- Report Protecting the Child from Poverty: The Role of Rights in the Council of Europe, by Aoife Nolan, Professor of International Human Rights Law, University of Nottingham and member of the European Committee of Social Rights
- Declaration by the Committee of Ministers on addressing child poverty, adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 11 December 2019 at the 1363rd meeting of the Ministers' Deputies
The Scottish response
Before the pandemic and before its impact on the economy were visible, Scotland was already treading water on child poverty. The withdrawal of lifelines, such as job protection and support schemes, is likely to pull low-income families further into poverty.
Almost one in four children (240,000) were living in relative poverty in Scotland in 2017-18, according to the Scottish Government and NHS Health Scotland 2019. The highest rates of child poverty are found in Glasgow, Dundee, North Ayrshire, Dumfries and Galloway and Clackmannanshire. According to Scottish Government sources, 65% of children in poverty live in working households.
In the absence of significant policy change, this figure is likely to increase in the coming years, with Scottish Government forecasts indicating that it will reach 38% by 2030-31. Analysis by the Resolution Foundation suggests the Scottish child poverty rate will be 29% by 2023-24 - the highest rate in over twenty years. This would reverse the fall in child poverty observed in the UK since the late 1990s (Source: IFS).
Although the Scottish Government has been making efforts to address the issue of child poverty, often voluntary and charity organisations are those working closely with disadvantaged groups throughout Scotland to encourage them to become more involved in their communities and equip them with the skills required to deal with the difficulties of today. “The state needs to provide much more support for civil society organisations because they are actually undertaking a public function. This is not a matter of charity. This is a matter of an obligation on the state. The fact that in many of the rich countries across Europe, civil society is stepping into that vacuum created by state failure is a concern”, underlines Bruce Adamson, Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland.
A team of the European Social Charter visited St Maria Goretti Primary School in Glasgow and St Francis Primary School in Dundee, where family learning and leisure programmes are organised every week to create opportunities for personal development and raise children’s aspirations.
Watch our video “Children in the crosshairs of poverty: the Scottish Response” to learn how FARE Scotland and Dundee Bairns are helping children and their families in Glasgow and Dundee.