UNICEF UK – Innocenti report “9

Children Left Behind

UNICEF: Innocenti Report Card #9


Whether in health, in education, or in material well-being, some children will always fall behind the average. The critical question is – how far behind? Is there a point beyond which falling behind is not inevitable but policy susceptible, not unavoidable but unacceptable, not inequality but inequity?

There are no widely agreed theoretical answers to these questions. Report Card 9 seeks to stimulate debate on the issue by introducing a common measure of ‘bottom-end inequality’. This permits each country’s performance to be assessed according to the standard of what the best-performing countries have been able to achieve. Such a standard may not represent the best that may be aspired to in theory, but in practice it suggests a level below which ‘falling behind’ is manifestly not inevitable.

The Report Card series is premised on the belief that the true measure of a nation’s standing is how well it attends to its children – their health and safety, their material security, their education and  socialisation, and their sense of being loved, valued, and included in the families and societies into which they are born. Its common theme is that protecting children during their vital, vulnerable years of growth is both the mark of a civilised society and the means of building a better future.

This ninth report in the series builds on previous issues by focusing specifically on those children in all OECD countries who are at risk of being left behind – of being neither included nor protected – by the wealthy societies in which they live

UNICEF UK: Children Left Behind with Material Inequality

A new UNICEF report on child inequality in 24 developed countries has shown that income poverty has the greatest impact on child inequality in the UK. UK levels of income poverty push the most disadvantaged children further behind compared to similar countries, such as France and Germany.

UNICEF UK’s Executive Director David Bull said, ‘Tackling income poverty should remain the number one priority for Government to reduce child inequality in the UK. At a time of austerity we must not widen this gap. Children living in poverty must not pay the price for reducing the deficit and should be the first to be protected. Household income must be central to next year’s child poverty strategy.’

Singling out the importance of income, the report comments that ‘one of the most disturbing aspects of changed economic times’ is that ‘full time employment no longer guarantees a life lived above the poverty line.’

Report Card 9, ‘Children Left Behind’, uses a new method of measuring how far the most disadvantaged children have been allowed to fall behind those at the median level in health, educational and material well-being. The report then ranks all 24 countries according to the size of this gap.

The UK is ranked alongside countries such as Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic in the bottom two fifths of countries. Government spending has prevented many children from falling into poverty, but the UK has a particularly high level of inequality in access to basic educational resources at home.

In response to the report UNICEF UK is calling on the Government to:

  • Set ambitious interim targets in next year’s child poverty strategy that must include benefits and income.
  • Apply a ‘fairness’ test to all proposed changes to the benefit, tax, health and education systems to ensure that new policies do not increase inequality between children.
  • Design the new universal credit to ensure that no family with children has to live on less than a living wage.
  • Promote the living wage.

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