UK's child wellbeing among lowest

Gabriella Jozwiak
Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Unicef has rated the UK as one of the worst rich nations when it comes to the wellbeing of children and young people.

Unicef said cuts to youth services have caused a rise in teenage pregnancy rates. Image: Phil Adams
Unicef said cuts to youth services have caused a rise in teenage pregnancy rates. Image: Phil Adams

A study published by Unicef placed the UK in 16th position in its league table of child wellbeing, which compared 29 developed countries.

Based on data collected up to 2010, the UK's total score was lower than the Czech Republic, Portugal and Slovenia. Its lowest score was given for education.

Unicef’s research found the UK had one of the highest rates of young people not in education, employment or training at 10 per cent of 15- to 19-year-olds, ranking the UK fourth from bottom on this measure.

The UK was also one of only three countries where teenage pregnancy had risen since Unicef's last child wellbeing study in 2007.

The report quoted Department for Education figures from January that showed government spending on young people’s services had fallen by £307.5m between 2010/11 and 2011/12 – a reduction of 26 per cent.

Unicef UK’s deputy executive director, Anita Tiessen, said the report indicated that the coalition government was failing young people by downgrading youth policy and cutting services, such as those intended to tackle teenage pregnancy.

She added that while the previous government had invested in early years between 2000 and 2010, this had not continued to improve children’s lives as they became teenagers.

“There is no doubt that the situation for children and young people has deteriorated in the past three years, with the government making policy choices that risk setting children back in their most crucial stages of development,” said Tiessen.
 
“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 wellbeing, over time society as a whole will pay the price.”

Rosie Ferguson, chief executive of London Youth, backed the report's findings. The study, she said, “once again highlights the significant challenges facing young people across many areas of their lives”.

“If we really want to improve the chances for young people looking for employment, further education and training, we must make the case for more investment in a youth work-based approach to policies and programmes in these areas, so that young people are supported to gain the confidence, skills and relationships to help them access opportunities,” said Ferguson.

“A truly joined-up approach to supporting young people would extend this across all aspects of policy, including health, education, social action, criminal justice and community engagement.”
 
In its 2007 study, Unicef ranked the UK at the bottom of the child wellbeing league table out of a total of 21 developed countries.

While the UK has improved its ranking in the new study, Unicef credited this to the previous government's investment in early years and predicts that children's situations will worsen due to the cuts being made by the present government.

A DfE spokesman said Unicef’s findings underlined “the urgent need for the government's reforms”.

"We are determined to improve opportunities for children in this country, which is why we are investing in high-quality early education for 260,000 two-year-olds from low-income families, giving more freedom to schools, and ensuring our curriculum and qualifications match the world's best,” he said.

“We also introduced the pupil premium, which provides £2.5bn a year to help schools support the most disadvantaged children.

"In addition, by raising the participation age to 18 and investing in traineeships and quality apprenticeships, we are offering more opportunities for young people to stay in education and learn the skills they need to thrive in the workplace.”

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