The Netherlands welcomes the Recommendation ‘Investing in children – breaking the cycle of disadvantage’. In the Coalition Agreement of 2012 the government agreed to intensify its policies on poverty whereby special attention will be given to children. The Netherlands scores quite well from an international and European perspective. According to UNICEF (2013): ‘the Netherlands retains its position as the clear leader and is the only country ranked among the top five countries in all dimensions of child well-being. The Netherlands is also the clear leader when well-being is evaluated by children themselves’. The recent Better Life Index of the OECD reaffirms the high level of child well-being in the Netherlands: ‘Only 0.6% of Dutch children live in a household with at least one long-term unemployed parent, the lowest share in the OECD.’ Nevertheless, children remain a leading risk-group and hence investing in children remains a priority of the Dutch government. Together with local authorities and relevant private and non-governmental organisations, the government continues to invest in children.
For the sake of investing in the well-being and future resilience of children, the Netherlands applies an integrated approach – starting with the investment in a stable environment: an adequate income for parents, access to essential and qualitative care and early investment in education.
Labour participation of parents is crucial with regard to the social inclusion of children. The government devotes special attention to improving the financial position of single-parent households (in which relatively speaking the poorest children grow up), by making work more rewarding. On 1 January 2015, the Child-care Schemes Reform Act entered into effect. As a result of this reform, there is no longer a poverty trap for single parents who take up employment after having been on social benefits. The financial incentive for this group to find work has been made stronger. According to a recent publication, the reforms of the child-care schemes reduces the risk of poverty with over a third. Especially single-parent household benefit from these reforms.
The social protection system ensures an adequate social minimum income for families including child benefits which parents can receive. The centralized child benefit schemes consist of:
From the department of Health, Welfare and Sports, centralized investment consists of:
To ensure qualitative and accessible education as well as the cultural development of children, the central institutional framework enables:
In 2015 large parts of the social protection system were decentralized to municipalities – known as “The Decentralizations” – since they, being in direct contact with the people, are more capable of understanding and analyzing someone’s situation. They are legally required that specialized services are tailored to the individual or family in question, such as Special Assistance – additional income when deemed necessary – an targeted ECEC programs to all children between 2 and five years old that run the risk of a language deficiency or being educationally disadvantaged at a preschool or day care institution.
Regarding youth care it is the local government’s duty to offer services to children, parents and professionals. This is in such a way that children can grow up safely and healthily, can become independent and participate socially in accordance with their age and development stage. To guarantee the quality of the youth care additional quality measures have been taken.
In line with its vision of an integrated approach and set of priorities, the government has made additional funding available to combat poverty and debt: € 100 million annually – of which €90 million is granted to municipalities since they are closer to the people and can more adequately and effectively implement policies, taking into consideration the local situation and relevant players. Upon funding the municipalities were called upon to pay special attention to combating poverty among children. Though the local funding is not earmarked, a survey conducted among municipalities in 2014, indicated that most municipalities have intensified their policies and deploy the extra resources predominantly for children and prevention.
In order to emphasise the importance of non-governmental actors in the fight against poverty and social exclusion, the cabinet decided that € 5 million of the budget would be invested in the ‘Sports impetus’ (stimulating local activation) and to extend the subsidy granted to the Youth Sports Fund in order to stimulate the participation of children – who may otherwise, for financial reasons, feel restricted. The Jeugdcultuurfonds (Youth Culture Fund) and the Stichting Leergeld (foundation aimed to prevent children from experiencing social exclusion) also receive subsidies from the Central Government. Many municipalities subsequently cooperate with the local branches of these organisations in order to give children - from families where they cannot afford this – the opportunity to participate in sports, to learn how to play a musical instrument, or to participate in a school outing.
By means of a subsidy-scheme in 2014 and 2015 a total of 30 projects of civil society organizations received funding for projects aimed at preventing and combating poverty and debt. Some of these project had a specific focus on children or youth, such as:
The Coalition Agreement states the importance of investing in the participation of children in play, recreation and cultural activities.
According to recent research by the Children’s Ombudsman policies to reduce poverty among children can be improved. Based largely on input from children but also parents, professionals and policy-makers, the Children’s Ombudsman proposed several valuable recommendations. One of his recommendations was to launch a so called ‘child package’, consisting of at least the absolute necessities, supplemented with things required to be able to participate in society, like vouchers for basic necessities, such as a set of winter clothes as well as summer clothes, and, for example, lessons for a basic swimming certificate, a library card until the age of 18, access to local public transport, and participation in a weekly activity for the purpose of leisure or sports/cultural development. The government welcomed this recommendation and promoted its use by municipalities. To further stimulate this initiative, the government conducted research in 2015 on the way in which municipalities give shape to the so called ’child package’ including examples of 10 best practices. The report showed that the amount of municipalities working with a (form of a) child package has increased (compared to an earlier inquiry in 2014) and the amount and variety of items and services included in such as package increased as well. According to the municipalities working with such a child package, they believe this to be an effective instrument to tackle child poverty and social exclusion.
Aside from the Ombudsman for Children the government regularly confers with and consults both independent experts, such as researchers, and stakeholders such as children’s rights organizations and NGOs and receives, albeit upon request, advice and recommendations for government policies and interventions. An example is the consultative structure which the Ministry of Health and several NGO’s to address ‘youth participation’. Particular attention is given to vulnerable children, such as children living in poverty.
The Investing in Children recommendation is highly welcomed by the Netherlands and is consistent with current and coming policies.
Despite budget cuts, the Dutch government will continue to provide the structural extra investment of € 100 million and continue to step up its policies to combat poverty and indebtedness, based on an integrated approach and setting several priorities:
Relevant stakeholders such as municipalities, NGOs and the Children’s Ombudsman will continue to be engaged in the manner in which policies can be intensified.
Being regarded as a valuable contribution to the fight against poverty and indebtedness, the subsidy-scheme will be prolonged and new calls will open in 2016 and 2017. Where the previous scheme set no criteria for specific vulnerable groups, this scheme will give preference to projects aimed at several specific groups, among which children and youth.
The information in the country profile was last updated in February 2016.
In order to further stimulate the sharing of knowledge and best practices, the European Commission instrument of Peer Reviews is highly welcomed and utilized. In 2015 the Netherlands participated in Belgium’s Peer Review on Children First and in 2016 the Netherlands organized its own Peer Review on Social Community Teams and will attend Ireland’s Peer Review on prevention and early intervention services for children.
The Dutch EU-precidency, has further defined an integrated approach to poverty as a priority. During the presidency good practices will be presented, accumulated and shared.
The government has also launched a portal www.effectiefarmoedebeleid.nl on which public and private parties can share their good practices.