UNICEF Report Card finds inequalities for children in wealthy nations

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UNICEF has issued a new report on the inequalities children in high income countries experience. It finds 30% of Irish children are materially deprived.

UNICEF’s Report Card 13, Fairness for Children: A league table of inequality in child well-being in rich countries, ranks 41 EU and OECD countries according to how far children at the bottom fall below their peers in the middle. The report, looks at “bottom end inequality” across income, educational achievement, self-reported health and life satisfaction.

While Ireland places 7th out of 41 EU/OECD countries across all dimensions of inequality, the report shows that nearly a third of all Irish children live in materially deprived households. (Fig 7. page 17). These deprivation rates would be far greater were it not for social transfers. Social transfers are social safety nets, such as social protection payments and child benefit payments.

Ireland currently has the 4th worst income inequality in the EU, ranked just below the UK, Belgium and Bulgaria, with a gap of 76.3%. Our social transfers nearly halve this income gap to 41.5%, This ranks us just under the UK with the second highest rate of social transfers (Fig 6. page 16). This is an unsustainable way to address income inequality. Policy makers in Ireland need to think of a more holistic approach to endemic inequality here.

UNICEF questions the success of economic growth when so many children are deprived and families must rely on social safety nets to make ends meet.

Other concerns include the impact social inequalities have on children’s health.

Young people in Ireland place 20th on a list of 35 EU/OECD countries in terms of self-reported health problems. There remains a high relative inequality link to unhealthy lifestyles, in particular unhealthy eating habits, with a 66.5% gap between the median and the bottom 10th percentile. (Figures 17 & 19).

Ireland is, however, going in the right direction, achieving small gains in narrowing most of the inequality gaps for health, education and well-being. This proves that policies can affect change when they are focused on young people, particularly those most economically disadvantaged.

As Ireland moves forward in forming a new government, UNICEF Ireland proposes the following key areas for action to strengthen child well-being:

  • Protect the incomes of households with the poorest children.
  • Improve the educational achievements of disadvantaged learners.
  • Promote and support healthy lifestyles for all children.
  • Take subjective well-being seriously.
  • Place equity at the heart of child well-being agendas.
  • Listen closely to the voices of young people and ensure that those voices drive their efforts to identify and tackle the inequalities that have such an impact on young people’s futures.