Uncertain impacts: Trends in public expenditure on children and child outcomes in Australia since the 1980s
One of the purposes of social indicators is to inform policy, so that policymakers can respond to emerging trends and changing needs. Many policy responses are resource-based – that is, they involve changes in expenditure, and the size and purpose of public expenditure is an important indicator of policy effort. This article shows that between the 1980s and the mid-2000s, successive Australian governments increased expenditure on children to a greater extent than they did on elderly Australians. They also increasingly focused public expenditure on younger children, and on poorer children. Since the mid-2000s, while the focus of public expenditure on younger and poorer children appears to continue, the size of the public expenditure budget for children is no longer increasing greatly, suggesting that policy prioritisation of children overall may have come to an end. Yet even while public expenditure on children was increasing, a review of available indicators suggests that trends in Australian children’s outcomes were not uniformly positive. In particular there is little substantive evidence that disparities in outcomes between children from lower and higher socio-economic backgrounds fell substantially. This raises questions of how the efficacy of public expenditure should be measured, and how the child indicators movement can rise to this challenge.