World Children’s Day - As 20% of minors in Belgium are at risk of poverty, hope comes from the new EU Child Guarantee that promotes equality
On November 20th, we celebrate World Children’s Day. It is an opportunity to raise awareness of children’s rights, of the problems children face and the need to invest in children. In 2019, nearly 18 million children in the EU lived in households at risk of poverty or social exclusion. A new approach to tackle this issue comes with the EU Child Guarantee, a new scheme promoted by the European Commission to ensure equal opportunities. This new guideline on child rights considers the safety of the minor along with the well-being of his/her family. Therefore, its comprehensive approach provides opportunities to make a sustainable and structural change for families. It takes into account the socio-economic conditions of the families children are living in. That is crucial, because it is impossible to support children in need if the well-being of other family members is ignored. The EU Child Guarantee is promising, and our expectations are high for the National Action Plans that Member States now need to develop to implement the Guarantee.
Supporting children in need
Our expectations need to be high, because every day many children are suffering from exclusion, poverty and deprivation. According to the EU-SILC, 20,3% of children living in Belgium are at risk of poverty and social exclusion, around 4,6% live in severe material deprivation and 10,8% live in a household with no income stability and a very low work intensity. Poverty in Belgium is a persistent problem and social mobility is low.
Every person and every child deserves a life in human dignity, and extra care and support is necessary to realise this. Caritas in Belgium advocates for children of Roma and traveller minorities to be considered as a target group in the National Action Plan. Many of these families experience social exclusion, racism and discrimination combined with severe material deprivation. Also, children seeking asylum and unaccompanied minors need special attention, as they face multiple risks due to their precarious and uncertain living situation. Caritas in Belgium also advocates to ensure a better support to and prevention of children and young people living in homelessness or in precarious and unsafe housing conditions.
A sample of key instruments to tackle poverty
Having accessible social services is a crucial condition for supporting children and families and for preventing difficulties. High-quality early childhood education and care are fundamental to give children a good start in life; however, in Belgium families experience a big shortage of childcare facilities for children between 0-3 years old. The offer needs to be drastically enlarged, it needs to be more affordable and located in less affluent locations.
Families in situations of poverty need a higher income to fulfil their basic needs to live a dignified life. Besides a higher minimum income and an inclusive and accessible labour market, the child benefit system could also be a valuable instrument to reduce poverty. We will for example advocate for raising the targeted and supplemental child benefits for families who are at risk of poverty.The European Child Guarantee forms an integral part of the EU Strategy on the Rights of the Child. Therefore, we advocate for the integration of a rights-based approach through all levels and aspects of the National Action Plan. In national, regional and local policies and practices we should strive for an as large as possible (automatic) take-up of social rights and benefits. It should not be the sole responsibility and struggle of families, which is often the case now.
Lastly, we want to stress the importance of having a steady, healthy and safe home. That is crucial for the wellbeing of every child and family and it is the condition that needs to be fulfilled to build on a new perspective and life out of poverty and stress. Major efforts are required by the Belgian and regional governments to realise this goal.
Invest all possible resources
At the beginning of 2021, Caritas in Belgium published a book on the topic of family support, and particularly on the question of how family support services could be a lever to help breaking the cycle of poverty and social exclusion. The book offers a frame of reference, good practices, expertise and information to support professionals and volunteers working on the ground. Now, we need to activate policymakers to create the right conditions and provide the necessary financial means to make that difference for children and their families living in poverty.
Caritas in Belgium will continue to advocate for an ambitious and strong National Action Plan that will make a structural and sustainable change in the lives of children and families who are at risk of poverty and social exclusion. It is a collective responsibility of policymakers to invest all possible resources. We will also plea for a qualitative and thorough evaluation and monitoring of the Plan. We now need ambition and action, not empty words nor hollow promises.