Switzerland has one of the lowest levels of child poverty in the industrialised world, according to a study by the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef).
But the number of young Swiss living in poverty – 6.8 per cent – is almost three times higher than in Denmark.
The Unicef report on Child Poverty in Rich Countries, published on Tuesday, ranked Switzerland fifth out of 24 of the wealthiest nations around the globe.
The UN agency estimates that there are up to 50 million children in rich countries growing up in relative poverty.
It said child poverty was found to be falling significantly in only four of the countries surveyed: Australia, Norway, Britain and the United States.
Elsbeth Müller, head of Unicef Switzerland, said the figures refuted the assumption that poverty was falling in most developed nations.
The findings are in keeping with a report in July last year by the Urban Initiative, which said that almost one in ten children in Swiss towns and cities was living below the poverty line.
The organisation, which represents 50 urban areas in Switzerland, noted that the number of young people depending on welfare rose by ten per cent in 2003.
Unicef statistics showed that there had been a 7.5 per cent rise in welfare payments in Switzerland from 1990-2000, but only a tiny fraction of this amount had gone to struggling families.
The report’s authors say children are in poverty when they live in households with an income less than half the national average – in Switzerland the national average is SFr7,880 ($6,760) gross a month
Nordic countries had the lowest levels of child poverty in the developed world, with Denmark heading the field.
This was due in a large part to their generous public spending on social benefits for families, according to Unicef.
"Higher government spending on family and social benefits is very clearly associated with a lower level of child poverty," said Philip O’Brien, regional director for Unicef.
At the other end of the spectrum, Mexico and the US had the worst rates of child poverty in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development – a Paris-based group of the world’s wealthiest nations.
Around 22 per cent of young people under the age of 18 in the United States live in poverty. This figure stands at 28 per cent in Mexico.
According to Unicef, both countries spend less than five per cent of their GDP on government support for families.
swissinfo with agencies
Percentage of children living in poverty:
United States 21.9%
The Unicef study found that higher government spending on family and social benefits was clearly associated with lower child poverty rates.
It said three fundamental forces – social trends, labour market conditions and government policies – were the key determinants of child poverty rates.
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