The Covid-19 crisis is having a devastating effect on the most vulnerable groups of society – and that are, often, children. In 2018 the situation was already unacceptable, with over 23 million children at risk of poverty and social exclusion. The current pandemic only exacerbates the situation. In particular, the wellbeing of future generations, especially for those coming from a disadvantaged background, is more uncertain than ever. An EU-wide Child Union is necessary.
Even before the pandemic, socio-economic divergencies across regions and within society were growing wider. And with the current pandemic, the situation is only getting worse.
Today, 20 November, is the universal Children’s day. Today, we launch an appeal to the Heads of State and Government and to the German Presidency of the European Union to uphold to the same sense of responsibility shown until now in this dramatic historical phase. We ask all EU institution to join forces in the fight to end child poverty in the EU. It is exactly in this spirit that we have launched a call for a Child Union, gathering a network of hundreds of policymakers, civil society organisations, think tanks and academics, because we know that the EU can and must do better.
New evidence made available by a recent study led by FEPS and partners, shows how the impact of the pandemic on children’s inequalities is uneven and alarming and that an ambitious European strategy is needed to ensure that all children, especially those coming from more disadvantaged backgrounds, are effectively reached by early childhood education and care (ECEC) services.
To establish a Child Union, we need a rapid entry into force of the European Child Guarantee; the development of an investments ecosystem for European children, starting with a correct planning of the Next Generation EU funding; a guaranteed equal access to quality and inclusive early childhood education and care for all.
The Group of the Socialists and Democrats has been advocating for the creation of a European Child Guarantee since 2014, well-aware of the fact that the existing policy instruments, such as the 2013 Commission Recommendation on Investing in Children, were unable to sufficiently respond to this growing challenge. The Child Guarantee, aimed at providing decent housing, adequate schooling, good nutrition, access to healthcare and childcare, has since become a top demand of the European Parliament, in particular in the context of the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) and the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+).
The Commission stepped up its efforts and put forward some very advanced proposals, notably by supporting the Parliament’s request to dedicate a obligatory share of five percent of national resources in the programming of the ESF+ for the tackling child poverty, while also including in its Work Programme the issuance of a new Council Recommendation establishing the European Child Guarantee. Unfortunately, the Member States remain reluctant to take this step forward. And while there was no agreement on a dedicated budget for the implementation of the Child Guarantee as part of the MFF, tough negotiations are still ongoing within the ESF+ trilogue for a binding commitment on tackling children’s poverty in the EU.
Next Generation EU is conceived to alleviate the future burden of the cost of the recovery, although its benefits will only be distributed in several years from now. However, if we truly hold the interests of future generations close to our hearts, what we should be immediately doing is a decisive intervention to eradicate the plague of child poverty in the EU.
Early childhood education and care must become an entitlement for every child. It must become a legal and social right enshrined in European law, building on the European Pillar of Social Rights. Next Generation EU and the discussion on the future budget of the Union, notably the ESF+, open the way for a possible new and ambitious integrated approach to the eradication of child poverty in the Union, consisting in adequate policies as well as structural investments in ECEC. We must exploit the momentum and we must take bold decisions. For the future of Europe, a better future for children.