The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) has recently issued an update on its assessment, called Report Card 11, of how the children of the world’s 29 richest countries are faring.
It does not make happy reading for Britain, whose citizens might have expected the results to show a society which – even though facing long and deep recession and austerity – at least looks out for its young.
Instead, Unicef’s “League Table of Child Well-Being”, which heads the report, places the UK 16th of the 29 countries, well behind the Netherlands (1st), Norway (2nd), Iceland (3rd), and with less-wealthy Slovenia, the Czech Republic and Portugal ahead of us on the list.
Teenage alcohol and pregnancy
Unicef has produced this table by assessing and scoring a wide range of indicators, grouped under five main areas: material well-being, health and safety, education, behaviour and risks, and housing and environment.
Britain scored particularly badly in under-age drinking and teenage pregnancy – areas which suggest a decline in social responsibility and the duty of care.
Britain has a relatively high number of NEETs – young people Not in Education, Employment or Training. With 10% of 15–19 year-olds classed as NEETs, only Italy, Spain, Ireland and Romania fared worse. Britain also has the lowest number of young people in further education (post-compulsory education, currently from age 16).
Even in infant mortality, the UK scored badly, ranking in the bottom third of the table.
The research covers the years up to 2010, which lets the present Coalition Government off the hook, as they have been quick to point out.
But the implications should be seen in the context of welfare cuts that have affected families and the younger generation particularly heavily. Their benefits will be held at 1% while inflation stands at 2.8%. (Benefits for the elderly, by contrast, will keep apace with inflation).
In the UK, there were signs of improvements in children’s general well-being in the early part of the first decade of this century, but these seem to have gone into reverse.
In a widely quoted statement, the Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF UK, Anita Tiessen, has said: “There is no doubt that the situation for children and young people has deteriorated in the last three years, with the government making policy choices that risk setting children back in their most crucial stages of development.
“With the UK ranking at the bottom, or near the bottom, of the league table on teenage pregnancy and young people not in education, employment or training, we know that many are facing a bleaker future. The government needs to acknowledge this and act now. While children and young people will be the first to bear the brunt if we fail to safeguard their well-being, over time society as a whole will pay the price.”