Expert Consultation on Age-Related Public Expenditure and Policies
(April 13, 2023) In the lead up to the launch of a new report Too Little Too Late, the UNICEF Innocenti – Global Office of Research and Foresight and the Columbia University Center on Poverty and Social Policy convened an expert consultation at Innocenti’s office in Florence, Italy.
The purpose of the consultation was to develop a shared understanding of a conceptual and analytical framework, and a basic set of comparable data that countries should collect, to monitor public policies and public finance for children, including both domestic expenditures and foreign assistance, with a focus on what data and research would be of most use to policymakers.
Participants for the consultation included representatives from UN Agencies, NGOs, and academia, as well as senior elected officials who have led efforts to enact policy to advance the welfare of children.
The expert consultation ended with four main conclusions and recommendations.
- Spend more and spend it earlier in the child’s life course. The world is leaving the youngest children out from policies – in spite of the consensus evidence that early childhood is the most critical window of human development – and is incurring massive cost to personal and social development as it does so. Despite the evidence that the early years are a critical time for human development, the world is persistently underinvesting in the youngest children. Increased spending on the youngest children cannot come at the expense of older children, who have themselves already suffered historical underinvestment. As the world’s most successful systems devote just one per cent of GDP to achieve this spending, this goal can be met and is less a matter of fiscal space than political prioritization.
- Governments, international organizations, non-governmental organizations, civil society, and development partners must make concerted efforts to establish basic public provision for preschoolers and infants worldwide. This is specifically a concern for social protection, which applies a greater variety of interventions than other policy sectors at work in the pre-school period.
- Effective investment relies on how money is spent, and for young children should start with three key policy pillars: gender-equitable parental leave, childcare services, and a child benefit. The child benefit should be for all children (universal) and start from when parents first begin to engage with prenatal public health services for pregnancy care to promote comprehensive prenatal care, birth registration, address poverty risks from day one, and to maximize optimizing efforts in education and health. Through policies focussed on age-related child development – and the achievement of children’s rights - public expenditures in early childhood are the cornerstone of the social contract; they protect a nation’s most precious resource, they address inequalities quicker and more effectively, and they set up nations for success.
- For comparative studies, and macro-level monitoring, harmonize data on expenditure on social policies for children. Data and expenditures on social policies related to children are disparate and do not lend themselves to easy cross-country comparison. Harmonizing the terminology and classification of policies, as well as greater collaboration among institutions working to compile these data will be useful in reducing redundancy and minimize conflicting reports. Addressing data quality, data availability, and reporting gaps is critical to ensure regular monitoring to inform the policies and programmes of development actors. Lead institutions such as the OECD, ILO, ISSA, and the World Bank should consider working closely together on the compilation of policies and expenditures to produce a one-stop shop and create greater efficiency.
- Translating evidence to policy starts with political champions who serve as the sponsors of the new policies for reform and introduce a vision in which a better world for all children is the foundation for a better world overall. This work requires access to the best evidence on the effectiveness and efficiency of public goods in childhood for human, social and economic development, following which financial constraints may be easier to address. Particularly useful to policymakers are estimates that (1) define a policy problem, (2) propose a solution with estimates of its impact, and (3) allow for tracking of estimated impacts immediately following implementation. For many countries with weaker data infrastructure, efforts to strengthen data systems will need to precede (or preferably be combined with) efforts to bridge the gaps between evidence and policy.