A century of child poverty in the Netherlands

RNW archive

This article is part of the RNW archive. RNW is the former Radio Netherlands Worldwide or Wereldomroep, which was founded as the Dutch international public broadcaster in 1947. In 2011, the Dutch government decided to cut funding and shift RNW from the ministry of Education, Culture and Science to the ministry of Foreign Affairs. More information about RNW Media’s current activities can be found at https://www.rnw.org/about-rnw-media.

One in ten children in the Netherlands is growing up in poverty, according to figures from the Dutch Institute for Social Research (SCP) - a total of 311,000 youngsters. It’s often difficult to see that they are poor. This was not the case in the past.

A century ago, many more Dutch children were living in poverty. That’s clear from the photograph of a multitude of children taken around 1910 in the Jordaan, at that time a working-class district of Amsterdam.

Eleven years later, in 1917, the photo is of a room serving as living room, bedroom and kitchen in the Jewish quarter of the capital: a child sleeps in the narrow box bed.

The pictures of children in a caravan camp (1926) and of a mother and child in front of an earthen hut (1936) look more as if they were taken in the 19th century.

The photo of a 1948 living room entitled ‘Poverty and bad housing in Rotterdam’ was found in city archives. The children pictured, though, look as if they are doing good deal better than those in the earlier photos.

No smart phone
The SCP says poverty nowadays means children cannot afford to join a sports club. Their parents also cannot pay for their children to have smartphones or designer clothes. Many boys and girls actually like wearing ripped jeans. Despite this, clear images of today’s poor children can readily be found: the contemporary photo is of a boy with a bag full of provisions coming away from a Dutch food bank.