Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Warning over UK child well-being

The UK has one of the highest alcohol abuse rates by young people, says Unicef's report card on child well-being

British children's prospects in life trail behind many of their European neighbours, and the present Government's policies are making the situation worse, a United Nations organisation has warned.

Unicef's report card on child well-being placed the UK 16th out of 29 developed countries, but it ranked much lower on key indicators such as 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 well-being 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 measures.

The deputy executive director of Unicef UK, Anita Tiessen, 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."

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 2001/2. 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 the report include: the lowest rates of further education in the developed world, with fewer than 75% of young people studying, compared with more than 80% 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% of 15 to 19-year- olds, and the UK is one of only three OECD countries with teenage pregnancy rates above 30 per 1,000.

It also highlighted that the UK has one of the highest alcohol abuse rates by young people, with around 20% of British 11 to 15-year-olds reporting having been drunk on at least two occasions and 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 child well-being table was topped by the Netherlands, followed by Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, but the UK also trailed behind less wealthy countries such as Slovenia, the Czech Republic and Portugal.

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