Israel has the highest level of child poverty in the developed world, according to a new UNICEF report published on Thursday, and is falling hugely behind in health and education.

The damning figures were identified in the ‘Fairness for Children’ study report card, which asked: “How far behind are children being allowed to fall?”

They show that child poverty, as a percentage of the population, is higher in Israel than in places like Chile, Turkey, Mexico and Romania, with poverty measured as “households with income below 50 per cent of the national median income”. 

In health, too, Israel came comfortably bottom in the list of 35 countries, which charts the “gap” between the health of children living in poverty compared to the national average. In this, Israel was 12 per cent worse than Turkey, which was the second-worst state.

In education, the gap was starker still, the rankings showing “how far low-achieving students are allowed to fall behind the average child in reading, maths and science literacy at the age of 15”. Israel’s “achievement gap,” the study shows, is more than twice that of almost all other developed countries.

“Social inequalities among adults may be justifiable… but when it comes to children, the social and economic circumstances they face are beyond their control, so differences in merit cannot be justification for them,” say the report’s authors.

The findings represent a shift in national priorities, says Prof. Dan Ben-David of the Shoresh Institute for Socio-economic Research, explaining that in the first three decades of Israel’s existence, the state invested in academia and health, building schools, universities and hospitals across the country until the 70s, when Israel became wealthier and its external threats changed,” with no new investment since. 

“It’s like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic,” he says, “instead of realising there’s a huge iceberg ahead and charting a new course.”