Your Excellency Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, Minister Krisa Kiuru, Dear friends,
It is a pleasure to be with you at this important webinar on ”What is an economy of well-being, and why and how it prioritises children”. Every year, World Children’s Day offers valuable moments for reflection and for taking stock on where we stand in ensuring a better life and a brighter future for all children.
The COVID-19 crisis is taking a heavy toll on children. It risks depriving an even greater number of children from having a fair chance in life. OECD analysis suggests that during the first half of 2020, students in grades 1-12 who were affected by school closures may have lost one-third of a school year of learning. This could reduce the lifetime income of these students by about 3%, and lower the GDP of an OECD Member country by an average of 1.5% over the rest of the century.
Many children in OECD countries are also vulnerable, face daily hardships and lack the opportunities and support they need to fulfil their potential and thrive. Prior to the crisis, almost 1 in 7 children across OECD countries lived in poor households. We still lack the data to fully assess the impact of the crisis on child poverty, but projections suggest significant rises. For instance, in the United States, child poverty could increase by more than one third by the end of 2020 compared to pre-crisis levels.
Countries around the globe are making unprecedented efforts in response to the challenges of the COVID-19 crisis. In Europe, for instance, we have witnessed an ambitious and transformational vision for the recovery, firmly anchored in the Next Generation EU Recovery Plan, the Green Deal and the European Pillar of Social Rights.
Children must continue to be placed at the front and centre of the recovery efforts. Childhood is the most fundamental time in the development of individuals and access to high quality early childhood and care cannot be overstated.
The results of the OECD’s International Early Learning and Child Well-being study, released earlier this year, show that children’s social and emotional well-being is strongly linked to their cognitive development and overall sense of happiness. Moreover, the education children receive during these early years is linked to their success in adulthood. This includes both academic and labour force outcomes.
Looking ahead, we need to focus on creating strong foundations for an economy of well-being, which supports children early in life, particularly those in situations of adversity and socio-economic disadvantage. An economy of well-being is defined as the ‘capacity to create a virtuous circle in which citizens’ well-being drives economic prosperity, stability and resilience, and vice-versa those good macroeconomic outcomes allow to sustain well-being investments over time’.
The OECD has a long and rich tradition of measuring well-being beyond GDP that goes back fifty years. Crucially, well-being has moved over time from being an interesting concept, to becoming a well-established policy agenda.
There are inherent links between the well-being of children and a sustainable and inclusive recovery, and the OECD has taken concrete actions to strengthen its support to countries in promoting the well-being of children through these difficult times.
We have started the groundwork on building effective policies for achieving children’s well-being in the post-COVID recovery. In fact, just today the OECD and the Institute for Inspiring Children’s Futures published a paper introducing the basis of this work.
In September, we created the OECD Centre on Well-being, Inclusion, Sustainability and Equal Opportunity (WISE) to put people’s well-being – including children’s well-being – at the top of the policy agenda. One of the units in the WISE Centre is entirely devoted to work on child well-being. Through this unit we are supporting countries to be more forward-looking, and to rapidly and sustainably implement their policy programmes on child well-being.
Taking this work forward, the OECD is also planning a major project that will not only assist countries in developing child well-being strategies, but also provide a framework for better measurement of the benefits of investing in child well-being. Our objective is to make the case for why countries need to invest in children and ensure that they receive consistent, coherent and coordinated support throughout childhood.
It is promising to see that a number of governments are already taking a people-centred approach to policy design, decision-making and delivery. Countries such as Finland have recognised the specific needs of children and have made important progress towards setting up national child well-being strategies. I applaud these efforts and hope to see more countries follow suit.
Investing in children’s potential, now and for the future, is a winning bet on sustainable and inclusive growth, societal resilience and stability. Let’s make sure that this investment features prominently in the post-COVID recovery. The OECD will continue to work with you and with all stakeholders to champion children’s well-being.