What should the 2018 federal budget do for children in Australia?


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The Federal Budget is an important time for everyone in the country, and that includes our youngest Australians. 
 
It sets the financial picture and agenda for the next year, and well into the future. And it involves issues and initiatives that impact upon the lives of children and young people – which makes them significant stakeholders.
 
As a signatory to the UN Children’s Convention, the Australian government is bound to help children realise their rights (Article 4) and to listen to their opinions (Article 12).

A girl smiles at the camera
"We should spend more time and money on children that are less fortunate," says nine-year-old Madison, a student in New South Wales. © UNICEF Australia / Patrick Moran

In a recent global conversation with the United Nations Children’s Committee on public spending, children gave governments worldwide the following advice:
 
  • It is impossible for you to invest in us if you don’t know what to invest in – you should ask children what we think first.
  • Please plan well – there should be enough money in the budget for all children
  • Don’t forget to include children with special needs.
  • Spend money fairly and wisely – you shouldn’t spend our families’ money on something that is useless – be efficient and save money.
  • Investing in children is long term, and it generates a lot, so remember to think about it carefully.
  • Investing in our families is an important way of keeping us well and safe.
  • You should recognise the rights of all citizens, by listening to people’s opinions - young and old - on matters of governance.
  • Be more accountable and transparent to us and our families.
  • You should publish clear records of how money is spent, with specific reference to children and young people.
  • Provide budget information to us in ways that are easily understood by children.
UNICEF is guided by five key principles when it talks to national governments, globally, about budgeting:
 
  1. Effectiveness: governments should ensure that budget allocation/decisions lead to the best possible outcomes for the largest number of children.
  2. Efficiency: strong checks and balances should be implemented to ensure that money allocated to children improves their lives and isn’t wasted.
  3. Equity: there should be no discrimination against any specific children or families, and resources should be targeted fairly to promote equality.
  4. Transparency: budget processes should engage the public and be open to public scrutiny.
  5. Sustainability: all budget decisions should seriously consider the best interests of current and future generations of children.
In other words, the Australian Government must invest in children in a manner that gives them the best start at life, and ensures healthy development through their early, middle and adolescent years – across the life cycles.
 
Importantly, our government must include children in public discussions on the budget, and invest in financial resources that ensure children in Australia, particularly those most disadvantaged, grow up with fair life chances.
 
Read more about budgeting for children.

Children gather in a circle
Primary school students participate in a consultation in April 2018. © UNICEF Australia / Patrick Moran

So, how will we know if children are faring well in this year’s budget?  UNICEF Australia has some ideas.

Click each point to jump to a detailed explanation below.
 
  1. A national Children’s Budget Statement – the government must articulate it’s investment for children
  2. A national representative body for young Australians – the government must allocate funding to support a peak body
  3. A comprehensive plan to end violence against children – the government must fund six key commitments
  4. Ending child poverty in Australia – the government must fund measurement, tracking and reduction measures on poverty
  5. Investing in children in our region – the government must restore its commitment and contribution to foreign aid 
 

1. A national Children’s Budget Statement – the government must articulate its investment for children

 
UNICEF works worldwide with governments to implement child focused budgeting – a process that ensures government resources and policies are aligned to deliver better, more sustainable outcomes for children. Child focused budgeting is simply budget work that makes the overall government budget more responsive to children.
 
With close to five million children in Australia, we should have a clear picture on how our federal budget impacts on them, and their families.
 
In practice, this means the Australian government should:
 
  • examine the resources that it allocates to welfare, health, and education programs that benefit children, within individual Ministries/government agencies, and as a whole
  • assess how adequately these programmes reflect the needs of children, and
  • evaluate the resource implications of policy changes in relevant social sectors (e.g. social protection, health, education) so that the government and the community can monitor the performance of government ministries and agencies in meeting their policy commitments to children.
UNICEF Australia calls on the Australian government to commit to:
 
  1. adopting child responsive budgeting for the 2019 period and into the future
  2. drafting a dedicated children’s budget statement in 2018, and into the future, and
  3. a bottom line figure on spending that benefits children in the 2018 Federal Budget.  
Return to menu of five actions
 

2. A national representative body for young Australians – the government must allocate funding to support a peak body 


Young people should have their own, independent representative (peak) body to help them communicate with governments about the things that are most important to them. 
 
There are serious issues facing young people in Australia – including housing instability, high levels of unemployment, poverty, rising costs in education, poor mental health and environmental degradation.
 
We are now witnessing the first generation that is likely to have less economic security and a lower standard of living than their parents.
 
Young people want (and have the right) to help governments solve these problems, and the challenges facing their communities. After all, they will go on to lead our communities, governments and to drive our economy – so they are central to our country’s success and prosperity.
 
A funded national youth peak body would:
 
  • represent young Australians to government
  • provide quality, youth informed policy advice
  • support policy and decision makers to consult and engage with young people, and
  • advocate for the best interests of young people. 
We call on the Australian Government to commit $600,000 annually to adequately fund an independent national youth peak body (4 staff members and operating costs). 

Return to menu of five actions
 

3. A comprehensive plan to end violence against children – the government must fund six key commitments

 
Most governments across the world agree that violence against children is a serious problem. However, few countries have achieved sustained measureable reductions and improvements over time.
 
Violence against children in Australia is pervasive. Children experience and witness violence in their daily lives in relationships, at home, in schools, in their communities and in public spaces.
 
The Personal Safety Survey conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2016 found that over 2.5 million Australians (13 per cent) had experienced abuse before the age of 15 years of age. Of these, an estimated 1.6 million people (8.5 per cent) experienced physical abuse and 1.4 million (7.7 per cent) experienced sexual abuse.1 In 2015, approximately 36 per cent of children in Australia reporting experiencing bullying on a monthly basis.2
 
Neuroscience shows that during early childhood (and even during pregnancy), the environments in which children live and learn, and the quality of their relationships with parents and caregivers, have a significant impact on their emotional, cognitive and social development. Exposure to violence and early adversity can weaken the architecture of the developing brain and the prospects for learning, leading to poor health and social outcomes.
 
In 2015-16 alone, violence against women and children was estimated to cost Australia $22 billion, with costs spread across victims and survivors, their children, employers and friends, and Australian Governments.
 
Not only is this unacceptable, but it violates the rights of children to live free from violence. Yet, violence against children is preventable if we commit to addressing its causes and risk factors.
 
In 2020 the Australian Government’s current Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children will draw to a close. 
 
With this in mind, UNICEF Australia calls on the Australian Government to finance six key national commitments4 to ending all forms of violence against children:
 
  1. Reform laws: Implement and enforce effective laws, particularly in relation to the recommendations from the Royal Commission on Child Sexual Abuse5 and the Royal Commission into the Detention of Children in the Northern Territory6
  2. Design and manage public spaces to be child-friendly and safe for young people - address hotspots for violence; improve the built environment
  3. Improve community-based parent and care giver support: delivered through home visits; delivered through community based programs.
  4. Make our social welfare and protection systems more responsive to families in crisis, in particular women and children who are experiencing family violence.
  5. Provide child-centred therapeutic responses and support services for children and young people, particularly those that have been in contact with the juvenile justice and foster care systems.
  6. Invest in children’s education and life skills: increase pre-school and primary and secondary school enrolment; enable safe school environments; improve children’s knowledge about sexual abuse, life skills, and adolescent intimate partner violence prevention programs.
Return to menu of five actions
 

4. Ending child poverty in Australia – the government must fund measurement, tracking and reduction measures on poverty


Children require a range of opportunities to survive and thrive.
 
Poverty can deprive children of the chance to develop physically and emotionally in healthy ways, engage effectively in education, and reach their full potential over the course of their lives. Children and adults who experience poverty do not have the material and non-material things that are necessary to lead a healthy, happy and productive life.
 
In Australia, research released by the Australian Council of Social Services in October 2016 stated that one in six (17 per cent) of children under the age of 15 were living in poverty, a figure that had increased by 2 percentage points over the past ten years.7
 
In April 2018, Foodbank released research that found more than 1 in 5 children in Australia (22 per cent) have experienced food insecurity.8
 
In 2017, the Salvation Army found that, of their service users, 54 per cent of households with children experienced severe deprivation, meaning that they went without five or more essential day-to-day items. These included the internet, money to participate in school activities or a hobby, school books and clothes, properly fitting shoes and, in some circumstances, fresh fruit and vegetables.9
 
The groups of children and young people who are particularly at risk of experiencing poverty include children in single parent families, and young people receiving Youth Allowance.10
 
Poverty for children is not the same as for adults. This is because children are at a stage of physical, emotional, cognitive, intellectual and spiritual development where they require specific support, provision and protection, that often differ from what adults require.
 
Poverty is not as simple as the level of household incomes. Poverty includes experiences that deprive children and adults of opportunities, that act as barriers to accessing essential services and factors that lead to social exclusion.
 
Just as poverty is ‘multi-dimensional’, it follows that the strategies needed to effectively reduce poverty, need to be as well.
 
Strategically reducing poverty

In committing to the Sustainable Development Goals – Agenda 2030, Australia pledged to work towards reducing, at least by half, the proportion of men, women and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions by 2030.
 
To achieve this, we need a national definition of child poverty and a system to measure and track the number of children experiencing it. Around 90 countries in the world already have such a system.11 It must tell us what types of deprivation children across Australia experience, which children face the biggest challenges and what strategies will be the most effective and efficient to reduce it.
 
UNICEF Australia calls on the federal government and all state and territory governments, commencing in the 2018-19 budget, to establish a plan to address child poverty in Australia, that includes:
 
  • creating a national measure of multi-dimensional child poverty
  • identifying targets for the reduction of child poverty in line with the SDGs, and
  • identifying special measures to reduce child poverty in high risk groups.
Return to menu of five actions
 

5. Investing in children in our region – the government must restore its commitment and contribution to foreign aid 


Growing inequality around the world means more and more children everywhere – both in Australia and overseas – are not getting a fair chance at life.
 
Unfortunately, many countries around the world lack the resources needed to provide their children with an adequate standard of living, the ability to develop to the fullest potential, and to protect them from neglect, exploitation, abuse and discrimination. 
 
Australia is a fortunate and wealthy country. We can afford to be a helpful and generous neighbour and support those countries that are struggling to provide for their children. It’s also in Australia’s interest to help its neighbours develop stable and prosperous societies as this reduces the chance of insecurity and conflict in our region. 
 
A smart way to help a neighbour develop is to help them support their best asset – their children. One way Australia can do this is through its foreign aid program.
 
Foreign aid is not wasted money. It helps children grow up healthy and well educated. Healthy and educated children grow up to be independent and productive citizens that can help lift their own families and communities out of poverty. Australia’s foreign aid helps countries in the region to provide basic social services and infrastructure – such as hospitals and schools – which are critical for a child’s health and wellbeing.
 
Children must be prioritised in Australia’s aid program by increasing the amount of aid Australia’s spends on children. But the aid that Australia gives to other countries is at an all-time low of just 0.21 per cent of Gross National Income (GNI). It is one of the lowest contributions of all OECD countries (the 34 free market economy countries that have committed to promoting policies which will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world.)
 
Overseas aid is less than 1 per cent of Australian Government spending.
 
UNICEF Australia therefore calls upon the Australian government to restore its aid program to previous levels at $5.5 billion (or 0.3 per cent of GNI) within the current Parliamentary term and to progressively increase this to 0.7 per cent of GNI by 2030 (the international standard).
 
Finally, to best assist children, we need to know more about them. Australia should therefore work with its neighbours to identify data gaps for children and adolescents (e.g., gender, age, education level, health etc). UNICEF has learned through experience that problems that go unmeasured often go unsolved. We believe that consistent, credible data about children’s situations is critical to the improvement of their lives – and indispensable to realising the rights of every child. Data analysis will enable us to develop a more accurate picture of how best to support vulnerable and excluded children in our region. 

Return to menu of five actions

For more information:
 
Brinsley Marlay
External Communication Manager
bmarlay@unicef.org.au
0403 604 182

References

1. Australian Bureau of Statistics, 4906.0 Personal Safety, Australia, 2016 (2017). 

2. Nicole Wernert, Elizabeth Jane O’Grady and Sima Rodrigues, Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2015: Reporting Australia’s Results, Australian Council for Educational Research (2017) 176. 

3. KPMG, The cost of violence against women and their children in Australia – Final Report (2016). 

4. UNICEF and partners. 2017. INSPIRE. Seven Strategies for Ending Violence Against Children

5. Full title is the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse 

6. Full title is the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory. 

7. Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) and Social Policy Research Centre (SPRC), Poverty in Australia  (2016) 8 

8. Foodbank, Rumbling Tummies – Child Hunger in Australia (2018) 

9. The Salvation Army, The Hard Road – National Economic and Social Impact Survey 2017 (2017) 46-47. 

10. Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) and Social Policy Research Centre (SPRC), Poverty in Australia (2016) 8 

11. Feb 12 2016, Social Inclusion Section Identifying or requesting ‘National Poverty Line’ data to develop child poverty estimates for the SDGs: A technical note