According to the Innocenti Report Card 13, one of the largest increases in inequality occurred in the PIGS countries – Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain. These inequality changes between 2008 and 2013 are mostly driven by labor markets, since as the rates of unemployment and underemployment rise, less income enters the households with children. However, social transfers can help to reduce the relative income gaps. For example, in the United Kingdom, social transfers cover for almost half of the relative income gap. On the other hand, countries like Portugal, with very similar pre- and post-transfer income gaps, have one of the highest levels of bottom-end inequality.
As the relative income gap is associated with child poverty, the countries with highest relative income gaps have the highest rates of child poverty, having the lower levels of overall child well-being. However, relative statistics are not sufficient to conclude about child poverty (since the poorest people in a rich country cannot be compared to the poorest people in a poor country). Thus, it is necessary to analyze children deprivation, considering that if their household cannot afford three or more of the following nine items, the child is deprived: 1) to face unexpected expenses; 2) to afford a one-week annual holiday away from home; 3) to avoid arrears in rent, mortgage and utility bills; 4) to have a meal with meat or proteins every second day; 5) to keep the home adequately heated; 6) to have a washing machine; 7) to have a color TV; 8) to have a telephone; 9) to have a personal car.
Even though the high amount of social transfers in the UK, in 2013, about 20 million meals were distributed, an increase of 54% in just one year, meaning that the number of people that cannot afford to feed themselves increased. According to the Centre for Food Policy, 35% of the poorest households’ income are spent on food in comparison to 11.6% with regards to the budget of households with an average income. This will have negative consequences on children: poor children will suffer from hunger, difficulty in having a meal outside school, bad dietary patterns and eat low amounts of fruit and vegetables, since food is a “flexible” item in the household budget when compared to fixed costs, such as rent and utility bills. With regards to the topic, it is important to explain that, according to the Food Ethics Council, food poverty means that an individual or household is not able to obtain nutritious food, or they cannot have access to the food they want to eat – even if we persuade people to adopt new pattern to maintain nutritional adequacy in time of hardship, if they cannot choose the foods they want, they will consider themselves to be poor: they have been deprived (John McKenzie, 1974). Thus, it is hard to compute numbers according to food poverty, since it is a qualitative concept without quantitative metrics. Moreover, food choices can be seen as a means of demonstrating group acceptance, mood and personality (John McKenzie, 1974). Therefore, it is not an applicable concept to this post.
Surprisingly (for me), children poverty is also linked to obesity: about 22% of poor children suffer from obesity against only 7% of rich children (UK, 2015), since diets of lower income households provide cheap, concentrated energy from fat, sugar, cereals, potatoes and meat products, offering little quantities of whole grains, vegetables and fruit (Adam Drewnoski, 2012).
In addition, low-income consumers usually live in regions where it is difficult to have access to healthy foods, and the fast-food restaurants predominate, in comparison with full-service restaurants (Adam Drewnoski, 2012). According to the Healthy Eating Index (HEI), higher HEI scores are related with higher diet costs, higher incomes, more education and lower rates of obesity (Adam Drewnoski, 2012).
Returning to the PIGS countries, all this discussion can be proven by looking at the trends in overweight or by comparing the percentages (above the OECD-33) for measured overweight between the ages of 5 and 17 (2013) – Greece tops with 44% and 38%, Italy with 36% and 34%, Portugal 27% and 29% and then, Spain 26% and 24% (boys and girls, respectively). All in all, it is another argument that goes hand-in-hand with the problematic of school menus not providing the right dietary choices to poor children that otherwise will not have access to it.
Jessica Martins 2555