Who pays for government austerity? A new report by UNICEF would suggest it is Canadian children.
Relative to other nations, Canada is stuck in the middle of 29 wealthy nations when it comes to the well-being of our children, and indicators particularly around health care and poverty are disturbing.
According to UNICEF’s most recent report card, Canada is 21st out of 29 for relative child poverty, 22nd for infant mortality, and 27th for the percentage who are overweight.
While the report suggests that at 17th Canadian children overall are doing relatively well, “we have too many children who are left out of public health efforts and who are not benefitting from their years of compulsory education by going on to further education.”
While children in poverty are most likely to be left out, the report notes that there are conditions affecting childhood in Canada that cut across all socioeconomic levels, stating we are raising children “in families squeezed for time as well as income.”
Children’s own impression of their well-being is startling – for that we rank in the bottom third at 24th. Only Eastern European nations fare worse. While children’s self-impression usually falls in line with the other indicators on the survey, that is not the case for Canada.
“The relationship children have with families and peers have dramatically changed in a generation, with smaller and more isolated families coping with longer commutes and other demands in the workplace,” the report states. It also notes the increasing role social media plays in children’s lives.
Looking at five broad categories – behaviours and risk; material well-being; education; housing and environment; and health and safety – it is the last category that is most distressing. In the health and safety determinants, Canada finishes 27th of 29 countries.
Last year’s report indicated there is a high price to pay as a nation for overlooking the well-being of children.
That significant price includes “reduced skills and productivity, lower levels of health and educational achievement, in increased likelihood of unemployment and welfare dependence, in the higher costs of judicial and social protection systems, and in the loss of social cohesion.”
UNICEF says the failure to protect children from poverty is one of the most costly mistakes a society can make.
Sharon Goldfeld, National Director of the Australian Early Development Index, told UNICEF researchers at “in a downturn the first that happens is that children drop off the policy agenda.”
The 2012 report cautioned here is a time lag between the beginning of an economic crisis and the full extent of its impact.
Here in Ontario we are only really in the first year of the government’s new austerity plan. Most expect to see deep cuts to 2017-18.
We’re only beginning to measure the damage.