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Over 200,000 more children are at risk of poverty in the European Union: Save the Children report


07 Mar 2023


Global Europe
Social Europe & Jobs

BRUSSELS, 7 March 2023: Over 200,000 more children were driven to the brink of poverty in EU countries in 2021, bringing the total number of children at risk of poverty to over 19.6 million – or one in four – according to a new report by Save the Children.

Europe is one of the wealthiest regions of the world, yet the report uncovered an alarming increase in the numbers of children and families living with poverty and social exclusion as a result of the cost of living, the climate crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report - ‘Guaranteeing Children’s Future: How COVID-19, cost-of-living and climate crises affect children in poverty and what governments in Europe need to do’ - compared different child poverty rates across 14 EU countries between 2020 and 2021.

Researchers used the AROPE indicator, the main instrument used to measure progress towards the EU 2030 target on poverty and social exclusion in Europe. Spain and Romania scored highest with 33.4% and 41.5% of children at risk of poverty, or social exclusion respectively.

The conflict in Ukraine and the subsequent increase in the cost of living has brought unbearable challenges to the lives of millions of families, especially those low and middle-income households that had already suffered during the pandemic. The price of basic food such as milk, cereals, and oil has skyrocketed, forcing families to skip meals and ration food.

In Romania 40% of households saw their income decrease in 2022, compared with the previous year, while expenses grew by a staggering 98%. Most families were making cutbacks, with half making cuts to spending on utilities and food, posing a risk to children’s wellbeing.

The report found that children with migrant backgrounds, refugees, asylum-seekers, undocumented and unaccompanied children are among the hardest hit. In Italy, for instance, 32.4% of migrants live in poverty, compared to 7.2% of Italian nationals.

The report also showed that children living in single parent families, large-disadvantaged families, children with disabilities, children belonging to ethnic minorities were also at risk.    

Eric Großhaus, Advocacy Manger Child Poverty and Social Inequality Save the Children Germany, said: 

“The figures on child poverty throughout Europe are devastating. There are 19.6 million children in the EU living in poverty, and over two million of them live in Germany. With one in five children in poverty nationwide, there can be no more excuses: the German government must finally deliver on its promises to tackle child poverty.”

Despite the bleak situation, there is hope, as the EU is witnessing a unique political momentum for the protection of children’s rights.

On 14 June 2021, the Council of the EU adopted the Recommendation establishing the European Child Guarantee which is the first EU-level policy instrument aiming to address childhood disadvantage and exclusion. Member States are required to provide at-risk children with free access to high quality early education and care, free education and school-based activities, at least one healthy meal each school day, healthcare, and adequate housing.

Member States were expected to submit their National Action Plans by 15 March last year but not all of them have. As of March 2023, 19 plans had been submitted and 8 were still missing. 

Ylva Sperling, Save the Children Europe Director, said: 

“No child should have to go to school on an empty stomach, worry about their parent’s job or live in a household that’s cold. Yet, the impact of Europe’s many crises makes eating or heating no longer a choice for many families and deprives children of the essentials they need for their development and well-being. 

“The European Child Guarantee holds the key to addressing the growing inequality and providing a better future for millions of children. Governments must ensure that they fully harness this once-in-a-generation anti-child poverty framework and use national action plans to correctly implement it. Now is the time for bold decisions and strategic funding to rapidly expand protection and mitigate the downfall of the crises for current and future generations of children.”

Notes to editors

  • For further information, see the report ‘Guaranteeing Children’s Future: How COVID-19, cost-of-living and climate crises affect children in poverty and what governments in Europe need to do’
  • Most figures are drawn from Eurostat AROPE rates.
  • The 14 European countries and territories included in the analysis were EU Member States Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Germany, Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and non-EU countries Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, and Iceland.
  • Data from the questionnaire and research carried out by different national and international organizations were also used in the report.
  • Although the report also covers non-EU Member States, formally not covered by EU anti-poverty instruments, Save the Children considers the Child Guarantee Council Recommendation as an exemplary policy framework that can be used as a basis for policy making in countries outside the EU, and as a model framework for child poverty reduction policies in Western Balkans.