Half of Turkish children in severe material deprivation

Half of Turkish children in severe material deprivation

Bahçeşehir University’s think-tank Betam, conveniently located in the heart of my beloved Black Eagles’ home, right next to the Beşiktaş ferries, released a very timely research note right before Children’s Day on April 23.

Titled “Half of Turkish Children in Severe Material Deprivation,” the note uses a European Union measure, which defines someone as severely materially deprived if she cannot afford four of the following nine items: Rent, mortgage or utility bills; adequate heating for her home; unexpected expenses; a meal involving meat, chicken or fish every other day; a one-week annual holiday away from home; a washing machine; a color television; a telephone; a car.

The severe material deprivation rate (SMDR) among Turkish children was 49.8 percent in 2013. This rate is less than 2 percent for the Scandinavians, around 5 percent for other developed EU members and 10 percent for most other EU members. Even in Greece, where a severe recession and fiscal austerity have driven up unemployment and poverty, the SMDR is only 23.4 percent. The closest to Turkey is Bulgaria, at 46.4 percent, followed by Romania at 35.3 percent.

You could argue that the inequality in Turkey is responsible for such a high figure. While there is some truth to this claim, even in the Aegean and Thrace, the regions with the lowest severe material deprivation, one out of three children are under severe material deprivation. Of course, this number pales in comparison to the three quarters of children suffering the same fate in the southeast.

You could also argue that some of the items in the EU measure are not absolute necessities. But more than half of Turkish children cannot eat meat, chicken or fish at least three times a week. Similarly, more than half live in families who say that they would not be able to cover unexpected expenses of 410 liras.

To cheer you up, I could tell you that children’s SMDR improved during the last two years. Betam did a similar study last year using 2011 data and found out that two out of three Turkish children were in severe material deprivation. The decrease of 15 percentage points is remarkable, but Betam’s Gökçe Uysal explained that the Turkish Statistical Institute changed some of the questions. Moreover, most of the improvement has been in the developed regions of Turkey with relatively low SMDRs. For example, while Thrace’s SMDR plunged from 58.7 to 32.6 percent, the fall in the southeast’s from 80.9 to 74.7 percent was more modest.

Recent Turkish policies see more children as a necessary condition for development. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan himself uses every opportunity to encourage families to have at least three kids. Devising policies to raise birth rates without taking existing children into consideration does not bode well for the future of these newborns. After all, fertility policies usually have more impact on lower-income households. The newborns of families whose children are already under severe material deprivation are bound to grow up in poverty as well.

By the way, this last paragraph isn’t mine – except the Erdoğan sentence, which I couldn’t resist:) I just translated the last paragraph of the Betam note, but this should not surprise you. Faced with the facts, it is normal for anyone who is not an Erdoğan crony to reach a similar conclusion.