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One in six children live in relative poverty

BMJ 2000; 320 doi: (Published 17 June 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;320:1621
  1. Jason O'Neale Roach
  1. BMJ

    One in six of the developed world's children live in relative poverty—that is, below the national poverty line in their country—according to a new report from Unicef.

    The report looked at both absolute poverty, which was defined as households with incomes below the official poverty line in the United States, and relative poverty, defined as households with an income below 50% of the median in the country studied.

    In the league table of relative child poverty, the bottom four places out of 23 are occupied by the United Kingdom, Italy, the United States, and Mexico, despite the fact that the United States has the second highest per capita gross national product of members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and the United Kingdom has the thirteenth.

    Whether measured by relative or absolute poverty, the top six places in the child poverty league, in which children fare better, are occupied by the same six nations: Sweden, Norway, Finland, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Denmark. All of these countries combine a high degree of economic development with a reasonable degree of equity.

    The Nordic countries have held child poverty at about 5% for the past 20 years, largely as a result of implementing family focused social policies. The countries with the lowest rates of children living in poverty allocate the highest proportion of their gross national product to social expenditure.

    The report says that it would cost less than 0.5% of gross national product to lift children above the poverty line in the United Kingdom because large numbers of families are living only just below the poverty line. In the United States, it would cost 0.66

    The report warns: “Many of the most serious problems facing today's advanced industrialised nations have roots in the denial and deprivation faced by many in childhood.”

    A League Table of Child Poverty in Rich Nations can be obtained from

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