• By Dartington SRU
  • Posted on Thursday 23rd April, 2009

Children's well-being not looking much rosier

UNICEF said it two years ago and the UK Child Poverty Action Group is saying it now: the well-being of children in the UK is lagging behind the rest of Europe. Income inequality appears to be undermining the happiness of rich and poor alike.New research from the University of York on behalf of Child Poverty Action Group ranks the UK 24 out of 29 in a well-being index of EU member states plus Norway and Iceland. The report echoes the findings of the 2007 UNICEF inquiry into child well-being in 21 industrialized nations which put the UK last (and the US a close-run second bottom).The Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries dominate the new top ten, while countries from the former eastern bloc – such as Romania, Latvia and Lithuania - occupy the few positions below the UK.The inquiry found that although wealth was beneficial, income inequality had a powerful negative impact on child well-being. [See: Inequality says more than wealth about children's well-being] As the report observes, “More equal societies, such as Scandinavian countries, tend to do better.”What else are other countries getting right? The study also found strong links between well-being and levels of spending on family benefits and services.Authors Jonathan Bradshaw and Dominic Richardson from the Social Policy Research Unit at York, stress that although the current UK Labour administration has invested heavily in eradicating child poverty there is still plenty of ground to make up. Bradshaw blames the UK’s poor performance on decades of under investment. “That the UK is making such slow progress out of the bottom of this league table is an indication of the long-term damage that can be done by neglecting children, especially in a recession,” he writes. The survey used 43 measures to capture child well-being, separated between the domains of health, subjective well-being, relationships, material resources, behavior and risk, education, and housing and environment. The UK fared particularly poorly in relation to material resources, due to the large number of children who have two unemployed parents. Environment was also an area for concern: housing and overcrowding were not serious issues, but children reported high levels of crime and pollution. The UK’s lowly score for health was mainly due to low rates of immunization for significant childhood diseases. British children also scored poorly for risky behavior such as early sexual intercourse, smoking, drinking and drug use.There were some areas of optimism, especially regarding relationships. Although British children do not get on so well with their families, they seem to be capable of sustaining relationships with their peers in school. [For more on child well-being see: Well-being is all very well – but what does it mean exactly?]See: Bradshaw J and Richardson D (in press) “An index of child well-being in Europe”, Child Indicators Research (in press) and Adamson P (2007) Child poverty in perspective: an overview of child well-being in rich countries, Innocenti Report Card 7, UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, Florence

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