‘Children worse off in UK than parts of eastern Europe’

Anita Tiessen: 'Many young people are facing a bleaker future'. Picture: Robert Perry
Anita Tiessen: 'Many young people are facing a bleaker future'. Picture: Robert Perry
Share this article
Have your say

BRITISH children’s prospects in life trail behind many of their European neighbours and the UK government’s policies are making the situation worse, a United Nations organisation warns today.

Unicef’s report card on child wellbeing placed the UK 16th out of 29 developed countries, but it ranked much lower on key indicators like involvement in further education (29th), teenage pregnancy (27th) and youth unemployment (24th).

The children’s rights organisation warned that a generation of British teenagers is being “sidelined” by the government’s austerity agenda and called for more targeted state investment in young people.

The UK has crept up the child wellbeing tables since Unicef’s last report in 2007, which controversially branded Britain the worst place in the developed world to be a child, ranked 21st out of 21.

But Unicef UK warned that the improvement seen under the previous Labour administration risks being reversed by the cuts programme pursued by the coalition over the past three years, which has hit young people hard. It cited research by the Family and Parenting Institute and Institute for Fiscal Studies predicting that 400,000 more children will be in poverty by 2015-16 due to austerity.

The deputy executive director of Unicef UK, Anita Tiessen, said: “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 first to bear the brunt if we fail to safeguard their wellbeing, over time society as a whole will pay the price.”

The new report draws on statistics from 2010 and shows a general improvement in children’s experiences over the first decade of this century, compared with the previous scorecard, which looked at data from 2001-02.

But the brighter picture for younger children is not matched among teenagers, who remain more likely than their peers in other developed countries to drop out of education and get involved in under-age drinking and teenage pregnancy.

Key UK failings identified in today’s report include:

• The lowest rates of further education in the developed world, with fewer than 75 per cent of young people studying, compared with more than 80 per cent in all of the other populous developed countries;

• One of the highest rates of young people not in education, employment, or training (Neets), affecting 10 per cent of 15 to 19-year-olds;

• The UK is one of only three OECD countries with teenage pregnancy rates of more than 30 per 1,000 and one of only three which saw rates rise over the course of the last decade;

• One of the highest alcohol abuse rates by young people, with around 20 per cent of British 11 to 15-year-olds reporting having been drunk on at least two occasions;

• The UK is placed in the bottom third of the infant mortality league table with a rate of 4.4 deaths per 1,000 live births, approximately double the rate of Sweden or Finland.

The table was topped by the Netherlands, followed by Finland and Iceland, but the UK also trailed behind less wealthy countries like Slovenia, the Czech Republic and Portugal.

Unicef UK said that young people’s position in Britain is “expected to worsen” as a result of government policies.