Almost a third of children in Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Italy and Spain have been pushed to the brink of poverty by austerity designed to bring down public debt, the global charity Caritas said on Thursday.
Italy and euro zone countries that have received international loans are creating a generation of poorly-fed young people with low morale and few job prospects as the number of children at risk of poverty continues to rise, the charity said, citing EU statistics.
“This could be a recipe not just for one lost generation in Europe but for several lost generations,” Caritas said.
Since 2010 Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain have received tens of billions in loans from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund in return for spending cutbacks and tax rises. Indebted Italy has not received an international loan.
In all five of these countries the increasing rate of children close to poverty coincides with the height of the crisis in 2008 and rises year-on-year to 2011. Statistics for 2012 are not yet available.
The charity blames children’s growing impoverishment on family-unfriendly cuts to welfare, unemployment benefits, rising value-added tax and increased fuel duties.
“It has become an established fact that children are more at risk of poverty than any other demographic,” Deirdre de Burca from Caritas said.
Figures from the European Commission show that in 2011 over 30 percent of children in Spain and Greece were at risk of poverty or exclusion, a four percentage point rise since 2005. In Portugal that figure is just below a third at 28.6 percent.
The 2011 figures for Ireland and Italy were not available. In 2010 37.6 percent of children were at risk of poverty or exclusion in Ireland and 28.9 percent in Italy.
Children are defined as nearing poverty and exclusion if they live in families with 60 percent or less the median income or have parents with little or no employment or lack basic essentials such as protein-rich foods, heating and clothes.
Caritas said governments must ask themselves what these trends will mean for children in the long run.
Studies show children from poor households are more likely to underperform at school and to struggle at finding or keeping jobs.
“They are looking at a future where the prospect of unemployment is stretching out ahead of them,” de Burca said. [Reuters]