The provincial government’s commitment to introduce a poverty reduction plan by the end of 2008 could mean that hope is finally on the way for those who have been excluded from opportunity.
The stakes are high. Poverty has a tremendous negative impact on children’s ability to learn. As they grow up, poor children are more likely to experience ill health and drop out of school and less likely to take part in post-secondary education. They have fewer prospects for a bright future. These are all commonly agreed facts, as are the answers about what must be done.
UNICEF’s groundbreaking research series about child poverty in industrialized nations draws on some of the best international evidence, and teaches us three primary lessons about how to achieve lasting progress on poverty:1
- There is no one single silver bullet. In the first industrial nations’ report card in 2001, UNICEF reminded us that “children are kept in poverty not by a padlock to which there is a single key but by a combination lock that requires an alignment of factors if it is to be released.” Those nations that are serious invest in a combination of good jobs, strong income security programs, and generous social programs such as housing and early learning and child care.
- Tackling poverty requires significant social investments and the commitment to put the resources in place to get the job done.
- Every industrialized nation has the capacity to significantly reduce poverty if it is ready to make a serious political commitment over a long sustained period of time.
Scandinavian countries like Denmark, Sweden, and Finland are outstanding examples of UNICEF’s lessons. By continuing to invest in strong social safety nets – through good times and bad – these nations have achieved the lowest child poverty rates in the world.
They have also managed to achieve a fine balance between economic and social bottom lines. Denmark, Sweden, and Finland occupy the top six spots in the World Economic Forums’s latest Global Competitiveness Index. Investing in people is proving to be a winning strategy. 2
Success in Ireland and the UK
Happily, more and more jurisdictions are taking this evidence seriously. Ireland and the UK both have adopted multi-pronged approaches to tackle poverty and social exclusion.
The UK, for instance, set out to reduce child poverty by 25 per cent in five years beginning in 1999; it hit the 23 per cent mark in 2003. Most importantly, the UK government unveiled renewed strategies and investments to continue to pursue its goal of halving poverty within a decade.
After exceeding the poverty reduction targets it first set in 1997, Ireland is aiming at eliminating persistent poverty by 2016.