Page last updated at 23:02 GMT, Monday, 20 April 2009 00:02 UK

UK ranked low on youth wellbeing


Children at a Dutch school in the UK on why children are happier in Holland

A table of young people's wellbeing in 29 European states - the EU plus Norway and Iceland - has ranked the UK 24th.

The Netherlands was top while only Romania, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania and Malta came lower than the UK.

The table, about youngsters aged up to 19, was compiled by York University researchers for the Child Poverty Action Group using mostly 2006 data.

The government commented that its policies were lifting more than a million children out of poverty.

The researchers assessed the countries on 43 separate measures, ranging from infant mortality and obesity to material resources - like poverty and housing.

Table: Youth wellbeing rankings

Also included were how children felt about their lives, schools and relationships.

subjective wellbeing
material resources
behaviour and risk
housing and environment

Feeling pressured by schoolwork, for example, fed into the measurement of "subjective wellbeing".

The study suggests little improvement since a similar report by Unicef two years ago, BBC correspondent James Westhead said.

The Netherlands led overall and was also in the upper third of the table in each area. Scandinavian countries dominated.

The UK's rank of 24th was well below the position which might be expected given its affluence, the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) report said.


Britain's best score, 15th, was in children's relationships - including how easy they say they find it to talk to their parents and get on with their classmates.

On material resources, the UK was 24th out of the 26 countries for which data was available.

"The UK position is particularly influenced by the high number of children living in families where no parent works. Only Lithuania and Poland do worse," said the report.

CPAG is not arguing against government policy focusing on income growth for the poorest families and the impact of public services.

But it says the current recession means many families are threatened with rapid income falls.

"There is nothing inevitable about the UK doing badly on child wellbeing," it says.

"The challenge should be to reverse this situation and put children front and centre of policy making."

Looking beyond 2010, the charity has a series of recommendations:

  • Protect jobs, remove barriers to work such as unsuitable and expensive childcare.
  • Mend the "safety net" which it says leaves many families struggling well below the official poverty line.
  • Drop means tests in favour of universal benefits such as child benefit.
  • Stop in-work poverty from low wages.
  • End the "classroom divide" in which children growing up in poverty have lower attainment.
  • Provide fair public services for those who need them most.
  • End "poverty premiums" which mean poor families pay more for basic goods, utilities and services and more of their income in taxes.
  • Ensure a decent home for every family.

CPAG says that as most of the data in the report is from three years ago - which is not unusual in international comparisons - many recent government policy initiatives are not fully reflected.

"The figures should therefore be read as a criticism of UK society, but not necessarily of recent social policy," it stresses.

England's children's minister, Beverley Hughes, added that the fact that a government department had been created to focus on children, schools and families showed the increased importance being given to children.

"Our Children's Plan is our long term vision and it puts children and families at the centre of everything government does," she said.

"Our policies have lifted 600,000 children out of poverty and halved absolute poverty. Policies announced in the last two years will lift around a further 500,000 children out of poverty.

"We are very proud that the majority of our children are happy and do well but in those cases where children and their families face problems, we will continue to invest in high quality services which provide the vital help and support that they need."

The CPAG report follows a BBC Newsround survey of 1,000 children around the UK.

Many were worried about money, bullying and knife crime - but most nevertheless said they were happy.

Overall ranking

1 Netherlands
2 Sweden
3 Norway
4 Iceland
5 Finland
6 Denmark
7 Slovenia
8 Germany
9 Ireland
10 Luxembourg
11 Austria
12 Cyprus
13 Spain
14 Belgium
15 France
16 Czech Republic
17 Slovakia
18 Estonia
19 Italy
20 Poland
21 Portugal
22 Hungary
23 Greece
24 United Kingdom
25 Romania
26 Bulgaria
27 Latvia
28 Lithuania
29 Malta

Source: Child Poverty Action Group

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