Later this year the European Union’s Recommendation on Child Poverty will be released, focusing on access to adequate resources, access to services and opportunities, children’s participation and a rights based approach to eradicating child poverty. Child poverty is determined not just in financial terms, but also in terms of a child’s physical, mental, moral and social development and opportunities to realise their potential. Fundamentally, all children should have an equal chance in life.
Last year the Government released a child poverty strategy which focused on strengthening families, encouraging responsibility, promoting work, guaranteeing fairness and providing support to the most vulnerable.
Two different approaches which differ in where the bulk of responsibility lies concerning promoting child poverty, falling with the state and the promotion of basic children’s human rights in the former, and the individual in the latter, focusing on personal responsibility.
The Government have argued that a “hand out culture” is not the answer, but encouraging families to be positive role models and work their way out of poverty is. This is an approach that some argue is out of touch, considering high unemployment rates and the reduction in available jobs.
The coalition’s approach encourages financial independence, and supporting family life and children’s opportunities in life. The EU approach focuses not just on the individual but the role the Government has in providing resources which ensure that it is possible for children to avoid or escape poverty.
Despite the fact that the welfare approach of previous government’s, which provided child focused support such as in work benefits which helped to reduce child poverty, the current Government has curbed its welfare support. The number of families who now receive child welfare support has been reduced in an attempt to reduce dependency on a “welfare state” and encourage parents into work.
According to EU recommendations however, the risk of child poverty is reduced through the provision of universal child benefits which should be received automatically alongside specific benefits for the most vulnerable and the most in need.
Although both approaches focus on providing services which help prevent child poverty, the way in which they target state and personal responsibility differs once again. The EU believe the state has a role to play in providing early childhood services in particular. However, the UK Government seems to blame poor parenting on child poverty, ignoring large amounts of research which finds that low income families largely focus on providing adequately for their family.
The EU report also recommends that the structure of services provided is changed to be more child and family focused and friendly, whereas the Government focuses on the individual, the reduction of the role of Government services, and a focus on initiatives such as “the Big Society”, shifting responsibility onto, and also empowering communities and individuals to take the initiative.
The Recommendations on Child Poverty outlines the belief that listening to children, encouraging their involvement in social, cultural and civic activities and empowering them and taking on board the experiences of children who have lived in poverty to influence policies is essential. The promotion of encouraging and engaging children is seen as vital.
In the UK, the belief is that tackling the welfare state, and restructuring public services is essential to tackling child poverty, increasing the role of the community in tackling the issue, whilst reducing state responsibility.
It could be argued that the EU focuses on the human rights of children, whereas the Government focuses on the behavioural and personal failures of those who are worse off in society. It can also be argued that the Government is encouraging families to take personal responsibility for the welfare of their children, instead of relying on state provisions to do so, reducing financial burdens on the Government in difficult economic times.
Children in poverty are currently being hit by the recent changes to child tax credit, a reduction to the childcare element of working tax credit, general caps to benefits overall and changes to local housing allowances. According to the Institute for Fiscal studies, child poverty is set to increase over the coming years.
Which ever approach you agree with, reducing child poverty should be a priority for any political organisation, community, and individual.