The Fairness for Children report card by the international agency showed Ireland was seventh out of 41 EU/OECD countries, despite findings children are now the most neglected group in Irish society.
The league table of inequality in child well-being in rich countries focuses on the gap between children at the bottom and in the middle and shows growing inequality among children in high income countries.
Regarding inequality in income, measuring how far the poorest children are being allowed to fall behind the ‘average’ child in each country, Ireland comes 10th of the 41 countries, behind nations such as Norway, Demark, the Czech Republic and the UK.
As for inequality in education, Ireland fares better, ranked ninth. According to the report: “In Estonia, Ireland, Latvia and Poland, low bottom-end inequality in educational achievement is combined with a low proportion of children [aged 15] scoring below proficiency level 2 in all three subjects (maths, reading and science literacy).”
Ireland is ranked 20th when it comes to inequality in health, the table rating countries in terms of the size of the relative gap in children’s self-reported health symptoms — or the extent to which children at the bottom are allowed to fall behind the ‘average’ child in health. When it comes to the size of the relative life satisfaction gap for children, Ireland is in 13th place. According to the report, living in a jobless household massively increases the likelihood of poverty. More than 60% of children in the poorest decile in Ireland live in a jobless household.
Ireland has the fourth worst income inequality in the EU and the report also highlights the key role of social transfers, including social welfare payments, in bridging the income gap for poorer households.
“In Ireland and the United Kingdom, social transfers nearly halve the relative income gap. Indeed, without significant social transfers, the income gaps in these two countries would be among the highest in Europe,” it said.
While 30% of all children live in deprived households, more than half of those in the poorest income decile (one-tenth of the total) do. Children are considered materially deprived when their household cannot afford three or more out of nine items considered necessary for an adequate life, including being able to face unexpected expenses, to avoid arrears in rent, mortgage and utility bills, and to keep the home adequately heated.
The report also logs the growing gap in Ireland in health inequality between 2002 and 2014, one of the country’s worst performing areas. However, when it came to life satisfaction levels over the same period, there was no change in Ireland’s score.
The report makes a string of recommendations, including a new focus on improving the educational achievements of disadvantaged learners and making equity at the heart of child well-being agendas, and Unicef called on the next Government to end the “practice of placing children last”.