Canada ranked 26th out of 35 nations in UNICEF study looking at well-being of children in bottom 10 per cent of family income.
Among the world’s rich countries, Canada is one of the more unequal societies for children, according to a new UNICEF report on the well-being of young people.
“In the international Olympics of child well-being, there isn’t much to celebrate,” UNICEF Canada said in a companion analysis released Thursday.
David Morley, president and CEO of UNICEF Canada, told the Star “we need to make some investments” because “if we make things better for our poorest children, it makes them better for our society and builds the kind of society we want to think we are.”
The global report, “UNICEF’s Report Card 13: Fairness for Children,” focused on what is called “bottom-end inequality” — how far the poorest children are allowed to fall behind the average of their peers.
It looked at the difference in four key areas — income, health, education and life satisfaction — between those children at the bottom 10 per cent of family income and those in the middle.
In 2013, Canada ranked 17th out of 29 affluent countries. In this latest study, Canada is 26th out of 35 nations.
“Canada is one of the more unequal societies for children,” said the UNICEF Canada report titled “Fairness for Children: Canada’s Challenge.”
“The growing gaps suggest that life is becoming more difficult for the most excluded children as social inequality has widened, and it is showing up in their physical and mental health.”
Alarmingly, Canada has one of the highest proportions of children reporting very low life satisfaction, which is associated with poor mental health and risky behaviour.
“If you see that even the middle is leaving you behind, then how can you feel life satisfaction?” Morley said in an interview.
For the last several decades, market forces have driven up income inequality and “we didn’t really clue in to what it meant to children,” he said.
“We’re a more competitive society, I think, and there are more winners and losers.” For those on the short end of things, “it’s easier to feel hopeless. It’s easier to feel outside of the mainstream. You’re being told all the time you’re not part of it.”
For indigenous and racialized communities, especially, there is a sense of “being beyond the fringe, not even on the fringes,” Morley said.
In Attawapiskat, where the Cree community on the James Bay coast is experiencing a crisis of suicide attempts among young people, “that must be part of it,” Morley said. “Those young people must feel so outside, and so without hope.”
Morley praised commitments by the new federal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as a solid start to closing the gaps.
The promised Canada Child Benefit, the commitment to curbing the marketing of unhealthy food and drinks to children, development of a national early years’ strategy to support child care and learning, and a commitment to greater flexibility for parental leave will “all help in moving Canada’s kids to the front of the pack,” he said.
UNICEF Canada wants all levels of government to invest more and earlier in children, improve monitoring, data gathering and get “better at listening to kids,” and establish child-impact assessments that ensure child well-being and equality is at the forefront of policy planning.
Failure to address such crucial disparities creates lasting economic and social divisions that reverberate at great cost for generations, the UNICEF Canada report warned.
But “when we do make those investments that help the farthest-behind group, it helps all of society,” Morley said. “It helps all children.”
For Canada as a society, “it’s an opportunity to be who we say we are, and be who we want to be.”
- Most areas of child well-being showed no improvement in Canada over the last decade.
- The poorest children in Canada have family incomes 53 per cent lower than the average child.
- In Canada, nine per cent of children reported very low life satisfaction, more than the average among rich countries
- Canada ranks 14th out of 37 countries in education inequality, 25th of 35 in life-satisfaction inequality.
- Boys and girls are “differently” unequal, with boys more likely to fall behind in education, girls more likely to fall behind in health and life satisfaction.