The percentage of children living in families categorized as poor in Norway has nearly doubled in the past 10 years, and the state auditor general is criticizing local governments for failing to tackle the problem. He says local authorities can and should do much more to activate the children by providing access to more recreation and social programs.
“I would go so far as to say that we are violating UN conventions,” state Auditor General Per-Kristian Foss said at a press conference on Wednesday. The veteran politician for the Conservative Party took over as auditor general in January, and has been releasing a variety of reports that evaluate public sector operations before the annual summer holidays begin.
78,000 poor children in Norway
Foss noted that the UN has declared that all children have a right to play and take part in sports or other recreational activities. Low-income families in Norway (defined as those with household income less than 60 percent of the national median) often have trouble providing sports equipment, games, entertainment or holidays for their children like that enjoyed by the majority in Norway. Many parents also lack initiative as well as cash, or are unaware of what help may be available.
Foss presented statistics showing that an estimated 78,000 children lived in low-income families in 2012, half of them with immigrant parents. The overall portion of children in low-income families rose from 5 percent in 2002 to 8 percent in 2012, according to statistics compiled by the auditor general’s office (Riksrevisjon).
The needs of children, Foss claimed, are not well-enough registered when parents seek social welfare assistance, nor are state and local government efforts to address the needs of children in poor families sufficiently coordinated. Many municipalities, which are responsible for implementing Norway’s social welfare programs, don’t do enough to ensure that children in low-income families can participate socially.
‘Just not good enough’
“Local governments’ work to reduce the consequences of of child poverty simply isn’t good enough,” Foss said, adding that was “the most important” finding in his office’s new report.
He worries that children who feel left out of activities enjoyed by other children can lead to them later dropping out of school. “And then this becomes a life-long problem,” Foss said. He called for more input from the state ministry in charge of family and equality issues: “The ministry must simply force the directorates to work more closely with the municipalities.” Solveig Horne, the minister in question, said she welcome Foss’ report and was taking it seriously. Foss warned he’d be evaluating how she follows up on the report’s criticism.
Kristin Halvorsen, former leader of the Socialist Left party (SV), vowed to eliminate child poverty when her party joined the former left-center government that took office in 2005 and ruled for eight years. Instead, Foss’ numbers show that child poverty continue to rise. Halvorsen, who served as both finance and education minister in the former government, declined comment on Foss’ report, telling newspaper Dagsavisen she had now left national politics.