27 Sep 23 | News

European Child Guarantee: an EU study on the access for children in need to key services

An EU report prepared by Eric Marlier and Anne-Catherine Guio (LISER), together with Isabel Baptista and Pedro Perista

Source: European Commission Press Release (20.09.2023)

The report examines the extent to which the six key services covered by the European Child Guarantee are readily available and accessible as well as free or affordable to children in low-income households across the EU. It was prepared by the European Social Policy Analysis Network (ESPAN), which covers 38 countries and is coordinated by LISER.

To help it set a baseline for monitoring the implementation of the European Child Guarantee (ECG), the European Commission asked the ESPAN to examine the extent to which the six key “services” covered by the ECG are readily available and accessible as well as free or affordable to children in low-income households across the EU. The study provides a comparative overview and assessment of the current situation in the 27 EU countries.

By adopting the ECG Recommendation, in June 2021, Member States are committed to guaranteeing that all children in need have:

  • effective and free access to high-quality early childhood education and care, education and school-based activities, one healthy meal each school day, and healthcare; as well as
  • effective access to healthy nutrition and adequate housing.

The ESPAN study shows that most EU countries have mechanisms in place to ensure that all children (or at least those from low-income households) have access to each of these six services. However, these mechanisms vary considerably in reach, and all 27 countries have challenges to meet which may only concern access to a few services or may relate to (almost) all of them.

The study identifies various financial and non-financial barriers to accessing these services. Among the non-financial barriers, it pinpoints wide geographical disparities in many countries which create inequalities in access - particularly between urban and rural areas.

Some key findings:

  • Early childhood education and care: About half of the EU countries do not provide free access to publicly funded childcare for children under 3, even for those from low-income households.
  • School costs: While there are usually no tuition fees for primary and secondary education, in all EU countries parents (including those on a low income) have to pay for necessary school equipment (e.g. schoolbag, pens, scissors) or required specific clothing (e.g. uniform, sports clothing).
  • School meals: More than two-thirds of the EU countries fail to provide free school meals to low-income children in compulsory education.
  • Healthcare: In most EU countries, all children have free access to outpatient care from general practitioners, services of infant nurses and vaccination programmes. The picture is similar for specialist care and dental care. On the other hand, the availability of free access to prescribed medicines depends considerably on the income situation of the child’s household and on the country.
  • Healthy nutrition: Inadequate benefits, low salaries, and, more broadly, insufficient discretionary income (i.e. the money remaining after taxes and essential household bills have been paid) hamper the access of low-income children to healthy nutrition. The situation is aggravated by the high(er) price of healthy food and by inflation in general.
  • Housing: The effectiveness of housing allowances/benefits is less clear. Although positive impacts of this support can be seen, enabling low-income households with children to access adequate housing, there is also evidence of inadequacy of existing support schemes, or of the erosion of their protective role against rising housing costs.

The ESPAN report also highlights that current studies and data, where these exist, are very often not sufficient to assess the effectiveness and adequacy of access for children to the six services covered by the ECG. For instance, it tends to be very difficult to assess actual out-of-pocket costs or non-take-up of measures. More evidence is therefore needed to monitor the implementation of the ECG at national and EU level.

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