Australia scores overall average in latest UNICEF OECD ranking on child well-being, falling behind in quality education

FLORENCE/SYDNEY, 15 June 2017 – Released today, UNICEF’s latest Report Card clearly outlines a number of gaps in Australia’s performance for children, in particular around quality education and food security.
Issued by the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti, Building the Future: Children and the Sustainable Development Goals in Rich Countries is the first report to assess the status of children in 41 high-income countries of the European Union (EU) and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in relation to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) identified as most important for child well-being. It ranks countries based on their performance and details the challenges and opportunities that advanced economies face in achieving global commitments to children.
Tony Stuart, CEO of UNICEF Australia said of the findings, “Most Australians would expect Australia to place in the top end of a ranking amongst EU/OECD countries. When it comes to child well-being indicators however, Australia places in the middle of the league table, 21st out of 41 EU/OECD countries. This seemingly average ranking hides some stark and troubling findings for children in Australia.
“UNICEF Australia is particularly concerned about the disadvantage experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, children with disabilities, and children from single parent households – children who are at risk of being left behind.
“Australia’s ranking of 39th out of 41 EU/OECD countries in terms of quality education raises serious red flags for children’s learning and development, which can severely impact their chances in life. A deeper dive into the data reveals that 71.7 per cent of 15-year-olds in Australia are achieving baseline competency in reading, mathematics and science (2015) and 80 per cent of children are participating in organised learning one year before the start of compulsory schooling (2013/14). We know that education is a great equalizer in society so it follows that poor quality education produces sharp inequality.
“Equally concerning in terms of health and nutrition, the report finds that Australia ranks 28th out of 41 EU/OECD countries, with 16 per cent of children below the age of 15 living with an adult who is food insecure (2014/15). When you take into account ACOSS national data from 2016 that suggests around 40% of children living in a single parent household in Australia are living in poverty, this paints a very grim reality for many children,” Mr Stuart added.
When taking into account the results of all 41 EU/OECD countries involved in the research, 1 in 5 children in high-income countries lives in relative income poverty and an average of 1 in 8 faces food insecurity.
The Report Card data clearly shows that children are more likely to stay developmentally on track in more equal societies.
“Report Card 14 is a wake-up-call that even in high-income countries progress does not benefit all children,” said Sarah Cook, Director of UNICEF Innocenti. “Higher incomes do not automatically lead to improved outcomes for all children, and may indeed deepen inequalities. Governments in all countries need to take action to ensure the gaps are reduced and progress is made to reach the SDGs for children.”
Based on the results presented in Report Card 14, UNICEF calls for the Australian Government to take action in five key areas:
  • Put children at the heart of equitable and sustainable progress – Improving the well-being of all children today is essential for achieving both equity and sustainability.
  • Leave no child behind – National averages often conceal extreme inequalities and the severe disadvantage of groups at the bottom of the scale.
  • Improve the collection of comparable data – in particular on violence against children, early childhood development, migration and gender.
  • Use the rankings to help tailor policy responses to national contexts – No country does well on all indicators of well-being for children and all countries face challenges in achieving at least some child-focused SDG targets.
  • Honour the commitment to global sustainable development – The overarching SDG framework engages all countries in a global endeavour.

Notes to Editors:

About Report Card 14
Building the Future is the 14th edition of the Report Card series produced by the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti. The report focuses on 10 SDGs considered most relevant to child well-being and uses comparable data sources on 25 indicators specifically selected to assess the status of children in high-income contexts. A composite league table summarises 41 European Union and Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries’ performance across the full range of indicators.

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About the UNICEF Office of Research - Innocenti
The Office of Research – Innocenti is UNICEF’s dedicated research centre. It undertakes research on emerging or current issues in order to inform the strategic directions, policies and programmes of UNICEF and its partners, shape global debates on child rights and development, and inform the global research and policy agenda for all children, and particularly for the most vulnerable. Please visit: 

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For more information, please contact:
Dale Rutstein, UNICEF Florence, Tel: + 39-3357582585,
Patrizia Faustini, UNICEF Florence, Tel: +39-0552033253,
Christophe Boulierac, UNICEF Geneva, +41-799-639-244,
Helen Wylie, UNICEF New York, Tel: +1 917 244 2215,
Laura Gibbons, UNICEF Australia, 04 35206273,