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Are EU member states converging?

Discussion of convergence in the EU in recent years has centred on economic indicators related to monetary union and the single European currency, but it is the convergence of living standards that is the ultimate goal of European integration.

This book analyses the living standards of the nearly 80 million children in the EU, who represent over a fifth of the Union’s total population. The well-being of Europe’s children is important now - and the nature of their progress to adulthood will have a major impact on the shape of Europe’s future.

By analysing the trends of child well-being in Europe over the last two decades, this book asks:

Is the well-being of children in the EU becoming more similar across member states?


Are countries diverging while their economies converge?

These issues are addressed with a wealth of data on different dimensions of the changing welfare of Europe’s children - evidence that has not previously been drawn together in a single source. The authors consider in turn the material well-being of children, their health and education, teenage fertility, and young people’s own views of their lives. There is careful treatment of conceptual and measurement issues and data quality and comparability, together with reference to a large literature across the different relevant disciplines.

This book aims to raise the profile of children in the debate on Europe’s future, and in doing so to contribute to the growing discussion of economic and social cohesion in the EU. The analysis is rigorous but it avoids disciplinary jargon and will appeal to a pan-European audience. It is important reading for academics across the social sciences interested in the well-being of children and youth, NGOs working on behalf of the young, and local and national government policy advisers concerned with the issues in a domestic or European context.

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New Labour, poverty, inequality and exclusion
Editors: and

This major new book provides, for the first time, a detailed evaluation of policies on poverty and social exclusion since 1997, and their effects. Bringing together leading experts in the field, it considers the challenges the government has faced, the policies chosen and the targets set in order to assess results. Drawing on research from the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion, and on external evaluations, the book asks how children, older people, poor neighbourhoods, ethnic minorities and other vulnerable groups have fared under New Labour and seeks to assess the government both on its own terms - in meeting its own targets - and according to alternative views of social exclusion.

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This chapter looks at the government’s efforts to improve living standards and opportunities for the poorest children. It assesses progress towards the child-poverty targets as well as the impact of early-years policies, intended to stop a class divide in child development from being established long before children reach school. Labour’s agenda for tackling poverty and disadvantage among children was serious and wide ranging, but with the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that its policies did not match the scale of the challenge. The strategy began well and ambitiously, and by 2004 there were positive signs that it was succeeding in improving the daily reality and future prospects of poor children. However, it was noted in 2005 that this success should be considered just a start.

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This chapter examines child poverty. It evaluates the evidence on child poverty under New Labour and during the recession of 2008–09. It illustrates the modest progress made by Labour governments in reducing child poverty during its time in office and points to the protective effect during the recession of Labour’s macroeconomic and benefits policies. It notes that the government’s anti-poverty strategy relies heavily on substantial job growth in the private sector. It concludes that children in low-income households have suffered a ‘treble blow’: the continuing impact of the recession, the need to reduce the structural deficit and the arrival of a new government committed to particularly steep cuts to public spending and placing a lower priority both on income poverty and on children.

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The number of children living in relative poverty in the UK increased dramatically over the two decades prior to 1997. As Table 7.1 shows, between one in three and one in four children lived in households with less than 60% of average income when Labour came to power, depending on whether income is measured before or after housing costs (BHC or AHC). This represented a much sharper rise in poverty among children than among the rest of the population. By the mid-1990s, child poverty in the UK was higher than in much of the rest of the industrialised world:UNICEF (2000) ranked the UK third bottom of 17 countries, ahead only of Italy and the US.

Table 7.1 also shows what happened to child poverty when measured against a fixed income poverty line (60% of average income in 1996/97). Measured AHC, nearly as high a share of children lived below the fixed line in 1997 as in 1979: after housing costs, real incomes for the poorest families with children had barely changed, despite substantial improvements in average living standards.

The rising level of household worklessness was one important factor behind this trend. One in five children lived in a household with no member in work in 1997, compared to just 8% in 1979 (Gregg and Wadsworth, 2001). This in turn was partly due to the fact that more children were living with a single parent – 22% in 1995/96, up from 10% in 1979 (Gregg et al, 1999, Table 1). In addition, the 1980s and 1990s had seen polarisation of work among two-parent households, with rising numbers of dual worker families on the one hand and no-worker families on the other (Gregg and Wadsworth, 2001).

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The UK’s concern about levels of poverty and social exclusion in recent years is not unique. The Lisbon Summit of the European Council (23-24 March 2000) placed poverty and social exclusion at centre stage for EU countries, asking member states to take steps to “make a decisive impact on the eradication of poverty” (Lisbon Summit Conclusions, para 32). Countries have had to publish National Action Plans for Social Inclusion and a set of target indicators are now published: for the first time, Europe has a scorecard for poverty, inequality and exclusion alongside those for inflation and interest rates.

Prior to this, several member states had already begun to increase the priority given to tackling deprivation. In many cases this was triggered by the election of a left-of-centre government: by 1999, 11 of the 15 EU countries had such a government in power, all of them elected after 19931. For instance, the Netherlands has had an anti-poverty policy since 1996, which has included active labour market policies alongside measures to raise the incomes of the poorest. In Ireland, the National Anti-Poverty Stategy (NAPS) was adopted in 1997, leading to targets for persistent poverty and unemployment, and the introduction of the practice of ‘poverty-proofing’ all government policy from 1998. In France, a ‘law against exclusion’ was passed in 1998, followed by a series of initiatives including the 1999 Law on Universal Health Insurance Coverage, while Portugal introduced a guaranteed minimum income for the first time in 1996. The Social-Democrat/Liberal coalition elected in Belgium in 1999 was an important force behind the establishment of common European social indicators, having made this a major priority for the Belgian presidency of the EU in 2001.

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Providing quality early education and care for disadvantaged children

Early education and care has become a central policy area in many countries. As services expand rapidly, it is crucial to examine whether children from disadvantaged backgrounds receive provision of the highest possible quality.

In this original, topical book, leading experts from eight countries examine how early education and care is organised, funded and regulated in their countries. Bringing together recent statistical evidence, the book gives an up-to-date picture of access to services by different groups, providing rich insights on how policies play out in practice, and the extent to which they help or hinder disadvantaged children to receive high quality provision.

An equal start? reveals the common tensions and complexities countries face in ensuring that early education and care is affordable, accessible and of high quality. Its critical examination of the potential for better policies ensures that An equal start? will be of interest to academic readers as well as policy makers and practitioners.

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Poverty, inequality and policy since 1997

When New Labour came to power in 1997, its leaders asked for it to be judged after ten years on its success in making Britain ‘a more equal society’. As it approaches the end of an unprecedented third term in office, this book asks whether Britain has indeed moved in that direction.

The highly successful earlier volume “A more equal society?” was described by Polly Toynbee as “the LSE’s mighty judgement on inequality”. Now this second volume by the same team of authors provides an independent assessment of the success or otherwise of New Labour’s policies over a longer period. It provides:

· consideration by a range of expert authors of a broad set of indicators and policy areas affecting poverty, inequality and social exclusion;

· analysis of developments up to the third term on areas including income inequality, education, employment, health inequalities, neighbourhoods, minority ethnic groups, children and older people;

· an assessment of outcomes a decade on, asking whether policies stood up to the challenges, and whether successful strategies have been sustained or have run out of steam; chapters on migration, social attitudes, the devolved administrations, the new Equality and Human Rights Commission, and future pressures.

The book is essential reading for academic and student audiences with an interest in contemporary social policy, as well as for all those seeking an objective account of Labour’s achievements in power.

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Authors: and

This chapter examines overall trends in socio-economic differentials in the aftermath of the 2007 financial crisis, covering both the 2007-2010 Labour administration under Gordon Brown and the Coalition Government 2010-2015. It explores trends in male and female employment and in wages for higher- and lower-paid men and women. It also discusses changes in income poverty and inequality, wealth inequality, and the distribution of benefits in kind. It presents a complex picture: employment fell following the crisis, but more slowly than might have been expected, with falling wages and rising earnings inequality the more striking features. Yet overall income inequality fell sharply in 2010/11 and up until 2013/14 neither income poverty nor inequality in household income rose, reflecting the protection of benefit and pension levels in real terms through most of the period. There was no sign of a wealth differentials narrowing or a reduction in wealth holdings at the top.

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The introduction of a single currency in most of the European Union (EU) in January 1999 saw great attention paid to the process of convergence among member states in a handful of macroeconomic indicators: inflation, the government deficit, the national debt, and long-term interest rates. Interest in these indicators has been natural since their convergence was required for participation in monetary union under the terms of the 1992 Maastricht Treaty; a requirement, in turn based on the idea that the single currency would not survive if it were introduced across economies which did not resemble each other in fundamental ways.

However, national performance in the EU risks being judged excessively on such macroeconomic criteria. Monetary union, a conclusion of the convergence process, is just a tool to reach a further end of increasing human welfare in Europe – as the Treaty on Union puts it, “the raising of the standard of living and quality of life” (Article 2). The Maastricht criteria should not divert attention from measuring progress towards these goals directly. And not only is the average level of well-being in Europe of concern, or that in particular countries, but also whether well-being is becoming more similar across member states as a whole – whether it is converging. Reduction of disparities in well-being among member states is at the heart of the European project. In this book we ask whether that is the direction in which we are moving, focusing on the situation of children. Is the welfare of children in the Union’s member states becoming more or less similar over time?1

To some extent this sort of measurement of trends in human welfare in the EU does already take place.

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