NZ ranked near bottom of UNICEF child wellbeing ratings

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New Zealand is near the bottom of a UNICEF league table ranking wealthy countries on the wellbeing of their children.

Child drawing outside on footpath with chalk.

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Of the 41 OECD and European Union countries surveyed, New Zealand ranked 35th in overall child wellbeing outcomes – and UNICEF says that is failing children.

The UN Children’s Fund rankings show this country’s youth suicide rates are the second highest in the developed world, with 14.9 deaths per 100,000 adolescents, and only 64 percent of 15-year-olds have basic reading and maths skills.

Too many children and young people are overweight and obese.

On mental wellbeing alone, New Zealand sits at 38th and on physical health it ranked 33rd.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the report did not take recent progress into account.

When UNICEF – the UN Children’s Fund – ranked countries on their social, education and health policies to support child wellbeing, New Zealand was in the middle of the pack, at number 20.

That ranking looked at things like parental leave, the percentage of households living in poverty, immunisation rates, and the number of young people not in education, employment or training.

New Zealand ranked 5th for the society measure, which took into account the percentage of people who have someone they can count on in times of trouble and the homicide rate.

The country was 1st for environment, which looked at air pollution and water quality.

NZ has ‘normalised inequality’

UNICEF NZ executive director Vivien Maidaborn said New Zealand’s rankings were driven by inequality.

“I think we normalise inequality. Somehow it’s alright that some families can’t afford homes and are living in motels and emergency housing. Somehow its alright that many of our lower socio-economic families can’t access high quality early childhood education. And then we wonder why we finish up with a statistic like only 64.5 percent of 15 year olds have got proficiency in reading and maths.

“It all adds up to these results and we’ve got to decide that now is the time to turn that round.”

Maidaborn said successive governments had taken each issue separately.

“We’ve got to look across the system. When we talk about inequality, if we bring it back to real basics, we’re talking about household incomes – and we’ve got to address household incomes.

“Right now in Covid-19 there is a real worry we’re increasing inequality,” she told Morning Report.

She said while there were wage subsidies and mortgage holidays, there were no rent holidays, and the doubling of the winter energy payment was due to run out on 1 October.

“I just think we’re in danger of investing in the New Zealanders who already have wealth and assets and forgetting that the poorest New Zealanders, people living on benefits, are not being well supported.”

Organisations in New Zealand had been doing good work on youth suicide prevention, she said, and newer data will show what effect that is having.

“I think there’s some understandable reasons why this year there’s been a big switch away from implementing the government’s flagship policy, the child youth wellbeing strategy, but I’m very determined we get that back into focus otherwise we go backwards from here.”

Report predates recent changes – Ardern

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the report largely paints a picture of the previous government’s underinvestment and did not take recent progress into account.

Ardern said the report pre-dated the government’s $5.5 billion Families Package and progress lifting more than 18,000 children from poverty.

The government accepted the recommendations to consult with children, ensure an integrated approach to child wellbeing and plan for the future, she said.

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