Athens – Bertelmann’s Social Justice Index, an annual survey of social conditions in the 28-member bloc, found a yawning gap between north and south, and between young and old. In Spain, Greece, Italy and Portugal, the number of children and youngsters under threat because of their economic condition has increased by 1.2 million to 7.6 million since 2007, the study said.
In addition, the number of EU citizens between 20 and 24 years old who are neither employed nor in education or training has risen in 25 of the 28 member states since 2008, with Germany and Sweden being the only countries where the outlook for this age group has improved. In Italy, 32 percent of people in their early twenties fall into this category, while in Spain it is 24.8 percent.
Observed over the longer term, the gap between the generations is also widening throughout Europe. While the share of children at risk of poverty or social exclusion has increased from 26.4 to 27.9 per cent on average in the EU since 2007, the corresponding share of the population of 65 years of age and over has dropped from 24.4 to 17.8 per cent. The main reason: in the course of the crisis, retirement benefits and old-age pensions either did not decline or did not shrink as strongly as did incomes in the younger population. Elias Lymperis, Chief UNICEF Greece, replied to our questions.
Nearly 26 million children and young people in the EU are threatened by poverty and social exclusion. Do you think this scene may change in the future?
It may change, we want it to change, but we need to act in this direction. UNICEF has consistently insisted on the issue of child poverty through major surveys conducted specifically with regards to the factors of child well-being in developed countries. The efforts of UNICEF would continue to implement policies and measures that will help in this direction.
In Greece, the number of young people who are threatened by poverty and social exclusion has increased dramatically. We may use the economic crisis as a permanent excuse or do we have inadequate social protection systems?
Indeed the situation goes from bad to worse, but the crisis must not become an excuse for an inadequate social protection system. UNICEF along with the University of Athens constantly publish reports putting the stress on this issue and making proposals to the state in order to “soften” the effects of the crisis including the establishment of a minimum guaranteed income, taking measures for single-parent households, tackling unemployment in poor households with children in which no adult working etc. Combating poverty and social exclusion, especially within children and young people, and contributing to economic development in the long term is primarily a fundamental right that all children should enjoy.
There is a risk of witnessing tragic consequences of this crisis later? If so, up to what extent?
The latest report of the Research Center of UNICEF Innocenti on the impact of the economic crisis on children, found that in 23 of the 41 developed countries studied, child poverty has increased since 2008. In Greece, it has increased by over 50% in 2012 average family income of households at 1998 levels – the equivalent of losing 14 years of income progress. Thus, the risk certainly exists, therefore each service, body or organization must intensify its efforts to halt the deterioration of the situation. We owe it to our children, to the future generations.
What can “imitate” Greece from other countries, especially those of the European North?
Indeed, these countries occupy the top positions in effectiveness of the child protection system. They manage to make a very good use of the relevant investments and have an efficient state apparatus. Moreover following these good practises, each legislation must take into consideration the children’s best interest. The publication of all relevant and detailed surveys of UNICEF aims at helping learn from the successes of others’ good example.
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