Child benefits help reduce single parent poverty in Europe

A well-designed child benefits system can play a crucial role in tackling poverty among lone mothers – and in strengthening women’s autonomy – according to researchers in Antwerp studying the impact of child benefits on the poverty risk of lone mothers in 15 European countries.

Key findings

  • Both the generosity and the design of the benefits system are important in tackling poverty among lone mothers. The best results are found in countries that combine a universal (non-means-tested) system of child benefits with generous benefits targeted specifically at lone mothers (Norway, Denmark, Finland, Ireland) or in countries with relatively generous benefit levels (Ireland, United Kingdom).
  • There is no strong relationship between spending on child benefits and total poverty reduction – in other words, designing a child benefit system capable of reducing poverty among lone mothers does not need to come at a great cost for governments and taxpayers. In fact, the most successful child benefit scheme in terms of poverty reduction, that of Norway, is also one of the least expensive.
  • Despite the good performance of child benefits in the UK in helping to reduce poverty, another crucial factor for lone mothers is the limited support they get to find paid work – in particular, through affordable childcare.

The full paper (Wim Van Lancker, Joris Ghysels and Bea Cantillon, An International Comparison of the Impact of Child Benefits on Poverty Outcomes for Single Mothers, Working Paper 12/03, Centre for Social Research) is available on the Centrum Voor Sociaal Beleid website. A short summary is also available on the same website.

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