Child poverty will remain above pre-COVID levels for at least five years in high-income countries – UNICEF report

11th December 2020
On 6 April 2020 in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Nera looks through the window and asks again why she cannot go out.

NOTE: STRICTLY EMBARGOED UNTIL 00.01 GMT 11 DEC

DUBLIN/FLORENCE/NEW YORK, 11 December 2020 – Child poverty is expected to remain above pre-COVID levels for at least five years in high-income countries. Yet, only 2 per cent of government-provided financial relief across OECD and EU countries was allocated specifically to support children and families raising children during the first wave of the pandemic, according to a new UNICEF report.

Supporting Families and Children Beyond COVID-19: Social Protection in High Income Countries – produced by the UNICEF Office of Research-Innocenti – explores how the social and economic impact of the pandemic is likely to affect children; the initial government responses to the crisis; and how future public policies could be optimised to better support children.

“The amount of financial relief allocated directly to children and families does not match the severe fallout of the pandemic, nor how long this crisis is expected to impact these countries” said Gunilla Olsson, Director of the UNICEF Office of Research-Innocenti.

An historic 10.8 trillion USD was spent on COVID-19 responses by high-income countries from February to the end of July 2020, around 90 per cent of which was spent on fiscal stimulus packages directed to, or through, business, the report notes. Although an essential part of the crisis response, business supports will inevitably exclude the most marginalized children and their families in society, meaning the worst off will be hardest hit. “As the second wave of COVID-19 strengthens its grip, a better balance must be sought” said Olsson.

Around one-third of OECD and EU countries included in the report did not implement any policies specifically aimed at supporting children in their response to the first wave of the pandemic. Among countries that did invest in social protection interventions for children and families – including childcare, school feeding and family allowances – the majority of these only lasted on average three months. The short-term nature of this is completely inadequate to address the projected length of the crisis and child poverty risks in the long run, the report notes.

“We are urging governments to ramp up social protection for children, alongside business supports” said Olsson. “Stronger family-focused policies must include a combination of unconditional income support for the poorest families, allowances for food, childcare and utilities, rent or mortgage waivers provided for the long-term to set stronger foundations so all children, and their families, can recover from this crisis.”

UNICEF Ireland Executive Director Peter Power said: “In the last great recession, Ireland saw poverty and material deprivation rates soar for children as a result of austerity measures. We had started to see the benefits of recovery for children before Covid-19 hit. We must learn from our mistakes and protect children from poverty by making strong policy decisions now.”

The report offers guidance to help find a better balance to meet the needs of both families raising children and the necessary business supports, including strategies to protect children and families from further fallout as the second wave of COVID-19 takes hold:

ENDS

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Notes for editors:

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