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  • Writer's pictureMichael Laxer

Child poverty amidst wealth: Over 1 in 5 children live in poverty in world's richest countries

Updated: Dec 7, 2023

In an astonishing indictment of austerity politics in countries like the United Kingdom and of the nature of US capitalism, according to data published today (December 6) by UNICEF Innocenti -- Global Office of Research and Foresight some of the world’s richest countries experienced sharp rises in child poverty between 2014 and 2021 and in some cases had significantly higher rates than countries seen as less wealthy.

For example, countries like Poland, Slovenia, Latvia, and Lithuania -- not among the richest OECD and EU countries -- reduced child poverty by between 30-38%, while five countries – France, Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and the United Kingdom – saw increases in poverty of at least 10%. In the case of the UK, the increase was an appalling 19.6%. 20.7% of all children in the UK now live in poverty.

Overall, Report Card 18: Child Poverty in the Midst of Wealth found that more than 1 in 5 children live in poverty in 40 of the world’s richest countries.

In the US -- whose leaders claim to have an economic model that produces wealth and growth -- an astounding 26.2% of children live in poverty, a rate higher than that of Bulgaria (26.1%). Canada's rate is still a dismal 17.2%, though to its credit it has seen an overall reduction in child poverty of over 22%.

The report "also highlights huge inequalities. Across 38 countries with available data, children living in a single parent family are over three times as likely to be living in poverty as other children. Children with disabilities or from minority ethnic/racial backgrounds are also at higher-than-average risk."


“The impacts of poverty on children are both persistent and damaging,” said Director of UNICEF Innocenti – Global Office of Research and Foresight, Bo Viktor Nylund. “For most children this means that they may grow up without enough nutritious food, clothes, school supplies, or a warm place to call home. It prevents the fulfillment of rights and can lead to poor physical and mental health.”
The consequences of poverty can last a lifetime. Children who experience poverty have less chance of completing school and earn lower wages as adults. In some countries, a person born in a deprived area is likely to live eight to nine years less than a person born in a wealthy area, according to the report.

To eradicate child poverty, the Report Card calls on governments and stakeholders to urgently:

  • Expand social protection for children, including child and family benefits to supplement families’ household income.

  • Ensure all children have access to quality basic services, like childcare and free education, that are essential to their well-being.

  • Create employment opportunities with adequate pay and family-friendly policies, such as paid parental leave, to support parents and caregivers in balancing work and care responsibilities.

  • Ensure that there are measures adapted to the specific needs of minority groups and single-headed households, to facilitate access to social protection, key services, and decent work, and reduce inequalities.

“Cash benefits have an immediate effect in alleviating poverty. Decision makers can support households by prioritizing and increasing expenditure on child and family benefits,” added Nylund. “A lot can be learned from the successes of different countries. How we use this learning will determine how effectively we can ensure children’s well-being today and in the future.”

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