By Richard Griffiths.
Watch commercial TV at the moment and the chances are that you will see this advertisement from Nationaal Fonds Kinderhulp (National help the Children Fund)).
A girl, aged ten or eleven, runs after her school friends. She is white, with dark blond hair and she is obviously Dutch. So are her school friends, but they all have bicycles and she does not…. and slowly the gap between them widens as they cycle out of the village. She cannot follow. She is POOR…. just like almost 400,000 other children! But she is not just like 400,000 other children.
Let us stay for a moment with the idea that there are 400,000 poor children in the Netherlands. In the this country, of the 400,000 children living in low income households, 55 per cent are Dutch. But given the fact that non-Western households are likely to have more children, the chances probably slightly less than 50 percent that the cycle-less child will be a white Dutch girl. Now, there is a difference between income and wealth. A family’s current budget might be tight, but that may be only a short-term inconvenience. In the earlier period of relative prosperity, they may well have had the money too have purchased a bike. Not so the longer term low-income families.. but then the number of children is probably nearer 110,000, and even more likely to be from non-Dutch origins.
And how poor are the poor in the Netherlands? Slightly over ninety per cent managed a hot meal with either meat, fish or chicken every day. Sixty-five per cent could afford to buy new clothes regularly and slightly over half could afford at least a week away from home on holiday. A recent OECD report took as a yardstick for poverty for international comparison a real income equivalent to half the median income. With a high median income, the Dutch had the ninth highest poverty threshold in the OECD. It also came in tenth in rank order with the percentage living under that threshold and those that did so enjoyed the 4th highest real disposable income in the OECD (behind Luxembourg, Norway and the USA… all significantly richer).
But let us return to the advertisement. How many of the 400,000 children does the charity expect to please with a bicycle this Christmas? About two hundred (this is not a misprint) at an average cost of €150 each. Why not buy them second-had? Why not have bike donation scheme? Why not collect and tidy-up some of the hundreds of abandoned bikes each year? As matters now stand, the other 399,800 will have to wait another year.
SCP/CBS, Armoedesignalement 2012
OECD, Divided We Stand (2011)