When one in four children in the EU is growing up at risk of poverty and social exclusion, investing in children is an economic necessity as much as a moral imperative, writes Jana Hainsworth.
Jana Hainsworth is Secretary General of Eurochild.
The funding proposals that the European Commission will launch in the coming days should help deliver on the high-level political commitment to the European Pillar of Social Rights. Unfortunately, the drafts we have seen fall short of that ambition, in particular with respect to Principle 11, which aims to protect children from poverty.
One in four children in the European Union is growing up at risk of poverty and social exclusion – some 26 million children. For many, the experience of poverty in childhood will compromise their full development, and lock them into a cycle of poverty and deprivation. Investing in children is both a moral imperative and economic necessity.
The European Commission issued excellent guidance on the policy reforms needed to break the cycle of disadvantage in its 2013 Recommendation on Investing in Children. However, implementation has been patchy and the EU’s cohesion policy has not been used to its full potential. There is an urgent need to bridge the gap between the agenda-setting policy work of the EU and its funding priorities. Ahead of the release of the financial instrument regulations in the last week of May, we have written an open letter to Marianne Thyssen, Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility, Corina Cretu, Commissioner for Regional Policy and Martin Selmayr, Secretary-General of the European Commission to make the following key demands.
We are calling for explicit mention of tackling child poverty within the investment priorities of the ESF+ regulations. We believe this will make a significant difference to the take-up by Member States of EU funding for this purpose and can catalyse much needed reforms.
We must also build on the positive experiences of this funding round. For example under the current thematic objective of “promoting social inclusion, combating poverty and any discrimination”, Member States “with an identified need” are required to include the transition from institutional to community-based care in their poverty reduction strategies. This has allowed countries such as Romania, Bulgaria or Latvia to prioritise deinstitutionalisation reforms and to invest heavily in child protection and welfare reforms to prevent the unnecessary separation of children from their families and to develop family-based, high-quality care alternatives. The next round of funding should support development of community-based services in all countries, not only those with “an identified need”.
Also in this funding period, ESF and ERDF regulations prioritise the transition from institutional to community based care and explicitly mention that investments should not contribute to the segregation, social exclusion or isolation from the community. It is very worrying that these positive developments appear to have been dropped from the upcoming new proposals.
It seems that the regulations will still ensure that spending in the inclusion policy area is conditional on Member States having poverty reduction strategies that include a focus on child poverty. This is to be welcomed.
But it is essential that the investment priority to which this conditionality is linked has a broad focus on poverty reduction and social inclusion, and not a narrow employment focus. For too many Member States, the European Social Fund is still solely associated with employment and training initiatives. It is essential that this funding round breaks that narrow interpretation, and ties funding to the broader approach supported by the European Pillar of Social Rights.
Renewal of the structural and investment funds coupled with the high-level political commitment to social protection and inclusion represents a historical opportunity that we can ill-afford to miss. Civil society wants to ensure EU funding instruments have a maximum positive impact on the lives of disadvantaged children and families. But careful and purposeful design at the outset will be critical to their success.