UNICEF’s Report Card measures the wellbeing of children in high income countries. Children are our most vulnerable members of society and as such deserve our protection and the prioritisation of their needs. Through International comparison we can see what is achievable in practice and in the real world for children. By looking at the policies implemented in the highest ranking countries we can learn how to achieve the best for children. We can also learn from our weaknesses where we need to improve.
Last years Report Card 12 showed what happens to children during a recession when they are not prioritised by policy makers. Many, leave education and training, are underemployed and fall in to poverty. Through neglect of their needs they can very quickly become a lost generation.
When you are suffering from economic transition, downturn or turbulence it is vital to prioritise and protect the growing minds and bodies of young. This is critical for the well being of children today and societies tomorrow. This investment in children lays the foundations of our future.
With that in mind, Report Card this year turned it attention on the rising inequality facing our world but instead of measuring the often sited gap between the top and bottom, UNICEF measured the median with the bottom. This gives us a better indicator of just how far children can fall in society behind the average person.
To measure inequality this report has looked at four indicators - inequality of income, education, health and life satisfaction. When we compare the countries we see that Denmark has come out on top and Israel and Turkey are at the bottom. Ireland has not faired so badly especially given that we are just out of a recession. We rank 7th among 35 nations.
It takes deeper analysis of the report however to see how far behind children in Ireland are really being allowed to fall? And what can the Irish Government do to ensure no child is left behind?
The report starts by analysing income inequality among countries. They have used the latest EU SILC data sets ( EU SILC stands for Statistics on Income and Living Standards). This data showed that as expected our relative income fell for both the median and the bottom 10% because of this our income gap decreased but it still stands at a shocking 41% difference.
We are actually the 4th highest country in relative income inequality but our social transfers (taxes and benefits) cut the figure nearly in half. We have an income gap of 76.3% but transfers narrow that gap by 45.6% One has to ask is this sustainable in the long term.
Material deprivation in Ireland is truly shocking. 30% of all households in Ireland are suffering from material deprivation. Material deprivation in this report is defined as household that cannot afford 3 out of the nine items listed here. If you look back to 2013 when the data was collected you will see that close to 20% of mortgages in Ireland were in arrears and rents had increased by 34%. Many economists and statisticians will argue that material deprivation gives a truer picture of poverty than income.
The measurements in this report are both objective and subjective. Health and Well being fall in to the subjective category. Health is the area that Ireland achieved the lowest rankings, with an overall ranking of 20. Of note in this section is the increasing gap in children presenting with symptoms of ill health on a regular basis. Also of note is that fact that 21% of children report a health complaint every day.
Children’s Diet and Activity levels are seeing gaps reducing however, they both show very high levels of inequality among children. Particularly with regard to their diets. Children from poorer families eat more sugar and exercise less often. Ireland has a growing obesity epidemic, we can already see this epidemic has a far high consequence for poorer more marginalised children. It is imperative that policy makers step in and speed up the progress of narrowing the gaps.
In conclusion, UNICEF Ireland plans to use this report to inform government and policy makers of what needs to be prioritised in order for children to be protected from lifelong illnesses, inequality and deprivation. We have sent the report along with our analysis and recommendations to leaders in all parties, senior civil servants in the relevant departments, academics and think tanks.
Let us know your thoughts on the Report and if you think this is something you would like to use to lobby or raise awareness of children's poverty in Ireland.