New league table shows wealthy nations are failing children

Sydney, 14 April 2016 – A new UNICEF report highlights how inequality affects children in high income countries, with some Australian children falling too far behind against key international measures. Australia’s average ranking is 13 out of 35 EU/ OECD countries, just ahead of Germany, Greece, Hungary and the United Kingdom.
Innocenti 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 of the distribution fall below their peers in the middle. The report looks at bottom end inequality of income, educational achievement, self-reported health and life satisfaction.
The gap between rich and poor is at its highest level in three decades in most OECD countries. Across the OECD, the risks of poverty have been shifting from the elderly towards youth since the 1980’s.
“While Australia is doing comparatively well in some areas, the size of Australia’s economy suggests that the outlook for Australian children could be significantly better,” said Nicole Breeze, UNICEF Australia Director of Policy and Advocacy. “The starkest findings in the report are Australia’s position on health and education, with inequality indicators putting Australia at 27 out of 35 for health and 24 out of 37 for education.”
The league tables rank Australia as follows:
  • Inequality in income: ranked number 14 out of 41
  • Inequality in education: ranked number 24 out of 37
  • Inequality in health: ranked number 27 out of 35
  • Inequality in life satisfaction: ranked number 2 out of 35
  • Average rank across all dimensions of inequality: ranked number 27 out of 35
Australia is ranked in the top half of countries when it comes to income inequality, however further evidence reveals concerning trends. Poverty is growing in Australia, with serious consequences for children. An estimated 2.5 million Australians are living below the internationally accepted poverty line, including 602,604 children (17.7% of all children)[1]. 
Turning to educational inequality, Australia is 24th out of 37 countries, with 9.1 per cent of 15-year-olds not achieving level 2 in reading, maths and science literacy in 2012. This is ahead of the United Kingdom but behind the United States and Canada.
Australia’s gender differences in educational disadvantage are lower than the OECD average, with girls 3.3 percentage points less likely than boys to be in this group.
According to the Australia Child Wellbeing Project (ACWP) of 2014, almost 22 per cent of 13- and 14-year-olds reported suffering from psychosomatic health problems daily. There was an almost 30 percentage point relative inequality gap between the health of the adolescents at the bottom and those at the median.
“As a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child we have committed to ensuring every child has access to an adequate standard of living. With over 17% of Australian children living below the poverty line, we are failing to give all children the best start in life,” said Megan Mitchell, National Children’s Commissioner.
“UNICEF’s Fairness for Children report highlights the widening gap between children at the bottom and those in the middle. The report asks challenging questions for Australia’s policy makers on how to address the needs of our most vulnerable children,” Ms Mitchell added.
Globally, the most disadvantaged in society are falling further away from the promise of a decent life.
“The Report Card provides a clear reminder that the well-being of children in any country is not an inevitable outcome of individual circumstances or of the level of economic development, but is shaped by policy choices,” said Dr Sarah Cook, Director of the UNICEF Office of Research - Innocenti.
”Australia must place equity at the heart of our child well-being agendas and the ‘leave-no-one-behind’ principle should form the foundation of future social strategies. The evidence presented in this report card suggests that to improve overall child well-being, the most disadvantaged must not be ignored,” said Nicole Breeze, UNICEF Australia Director of Policy and Advocacy.
UNICEF Australia encourages the Australian Government to consider addressing systemic inequality by:
  • Strengthening the national governance framework for children
  • Improving the quality and access to data for monitoring and accountability
  • Ensuring service delivery is culturally appropriate, coordinated and holistic
  • Increasing focus on meeting the Close the Gap targets to reduce health inequality
  • Improving access to support in the early years of child development 
Download the full report:
Download press-kit and multi-media materials:
Data sources:
  • The calculations of income inequality among children are based on micro-data from the European Union Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC) 2013 for European Union countries and Iceland, Norway and Switzerland.
  • For the remaining 9 countries included in the analysis, the income data comes from nationally representative household income surveys.
  • Analysis of inequality in educational achievement is based on OECD Programme of International Students’ Assessment (PISA) 2006, 2009, and 2012 data sets.
  • Health and life satisfaction data are sourced from the Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) 2013/2014 survey. A detailed description of the data sources is on page 44 of Report Card 13. 
About the UNICEF Office of Research - Innocenti

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For further information and interviews please contact:

Nicole Mackey, UNICEF Australia, Tel : 0403 964 334,
Dale Rutstein, UNICEF Florence, Tel: + 39 3357582585,
Patrizia Faustini, UNICEF Florence, Tel: +39 0552033253,
Christophe Boulierac, UNICEF Geneva, +41 799 639 244,
Georgina Thompson, UNICEF New York, Tel: +1 917 238 1559,

[1] Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) Poverty Report 2014