UNICEF Australia welcomes the release today of the fifth Intergenerational Report, which projects an outlook for the economy and the Australian Government’s budget over the next 40 years.
The release of the Report is an opportunity to pause, take stock and reflect on the future that we want to realise for children and young people in Australia.
Front-of-mind is the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic which has “caused the most severe global economic shock since the Great Depression”, according to the Report. The pandemic, however, has not displaced pre-existing local and global trends which will continue to have an impact on Australia’s long-term economic outlook, even though it has amplified many of them.
Pre-existing inequalities and a widening of disadvantage now sees families affected who have never before experienced joblessness, insecure housing, or inadequate incomes, as a result of the pandemic. Children and young people across the country are being affected in critical areas including mental health, education, and employment, with long term implications for their future.
Evidence from UNICEF’s Report Card 16 demonstrates that even prior to COVID-19 Australia fared poorly in terms of child wellbeing compared to other rich countries. One in six children were reported to be living in poverty and Australia ranked 30th out of 38 countries for educational equality. The OECD found that these inequalities were on the rise, including a widening gap in reading ability.
In this regard, the fifth Intergenerational Report’s findings are cause for concern given it predicts a slowing in growth of real gross domestic product (GDP) and real GDP per person over the next 40 years in Australia, compared with the past 40 years. As Australia’s population continues to age, the Report outlines that a working-age person’s taxes in the future will have to support a greater number of people over the age of 65. To protect children and young people against poverty and inequality we must take action by ensuring adequate social protection measures including, for example, permanent and adequate increases to JobSeeker and Youth Allowance.
The Report also outlines the significant impact that climate change will have on Australia’s economy and budget over the next 40 years. Climate change is an issue at the forefront of many young people’s minds around Australia – the recently released final part of UNICEF’s Young Ambassadors Report found that children and young people identified climate change as the greatest threat to their future and wellbeing.
The vast majority of young people believed that Australia should be taking the lead on climate action. With the influence of climate change also making natural disasters worse and more enduring, Australia also needs to ensure support for children and young people before, during and after emergencies to protect them against long-term negative impacts.
While the fifth Intergenerational Report predicts an increased emphasis in spending on older Australians as a result of an aging population, we will need to ensure that we continue to emphasise the importance of investing in our children and young people – the most important investment any country can make.
We must continue to increase access to quality affordable early education and childcare for families, increase employment opportunities for young people by providing training and reskilling, and provide young people with the tools they need to address their mental health and remain resilient in an economic future that may not be as prosperous as that of their parents. We must also ensure that no Australia child is left behind by doing more to address inequality, especially for First Nations young people, if Australia is to meet its commitments to close the gap.
Underpinning all of our efforts is the necessity to listen to the voices of children and young people, particularly as the fifth Intergenerational Report predicts young people representing a much smaller proportion of the Australian populace in the future. We will need to remain even more vigilant if we are to elevate children’s policy as a critical national priority, supported by a national plan with sustained leadership. In doing so, we can help to ensure that every Australian child realises their full potential, now and into the future.