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BBC TwoNewsnight
Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 February 2007, 21:54 GMT
UK kids 'unhappiest' in developed world
Peter Marshall
By Peter Marshall
BBC Newsnight

Sad child
The report on Britain's children makes grim reading

In a Newsnight special programme we examine the claim that Britain's children are unhappier and feel less loved than those in almost any of the world's wealthiest nations.

That is the conclusion of a Unicef report which considered six factors crucial to children's lives: material well-being; health and safety; education; family and peer relationships; behaviour and risks; and subjective well-being.

Overall the Netherlands fares best in the study, ranking in the top ten for all six critera. Britain and America come in the bottom third in five of the six categories, ranking well behind the likes of Greece, Poland and the Czech Republic.

The report, revealed exclusively on Newsnight, draws on data from existing studies by the World Health Organisation and the OECD.

Grim reading

Unicef logo
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According to Unicef, the problems of being born in the UK start at the beginning: the proportion of those with low birth weight is greater in the UK than in 20 other OECD nations, way behind the likes Poland, Portugal and the Czech Republic.

The report makes grim reading, suggesting that growing up in Britain may leave children disadvantaged not because the country is materially poor but because of "relative income poverty" - the large disparity in wealth between the nation's poorest and the rest.

Only in the United States is the gap wider. Scandinavia has the lowest rate of relative income poverty.

According to Manu Vatish, consultant obstetrician at University Hospital, Coventry, this is an obvious sign of deprivation.

"It continues throughout their childhood. It will lead them into adolescence, it will alter their job prospects and then they'll continue in a cycle of deprivation into the next generation," he says.

Drink and drugs

But the American dream lives on: children in the US are the most ambitious, whereas in the UK, one third expect to find no better than unskilled work.

Dillon's story animation on Newsround
BBC Newsround produced some powerful animated reports - such as Dillon's story - about young people in difficult circumstances.

When it comes to sex, drugs and drink, Britain's teenagers are the worst abusers. Fewer than a tenth of French 11 to 15 year olds, compared to a third of the UK's, say they've been drunk at least twice.

As for drugs, only Swiss and Canadian teenagers have used cannabis more frequently than the British.

Nearly 40% of British 15 year olds say they have had sex - far more than the next most sexually precocious, the Germans and the Swedes where the figure is below 30%.

Family

Britain has the second highest incidence of young people living in single parent families. Almost 17%compared to just 7% in Italy and 9% in Belgium.

And Britain comes bottom in family and peer relationships and in how young people feel about themselves. In Switzerland over 80% of youngsters find their peers kind and helpful.

From Portugal to Germany and Scandinavia well over 70% do likewise. But in Britain the figure is a dismal 43%.

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