Thursday, February 15, 2007

The UNICEF report - highly depressing reading

I've just looked through the UNICEF report into the well-being of children, which has been heavily covered in the media in the last few days, and depressing reading it was too. It's a complete indictment of this country.

According to the report, the UK was clearly the worst country when it came to behaviour and risk (obesity, substance abuse, violence, and sexual risk-taking), relationships (with family and peers), subjective well-being (children's perceptions on their health, education and happiness). We were also amongst the worst when it came to education and material well-being, and our best position was when we were only just below the average on health and safety. Clearly there are methodological problems when it comes to measuring some of these types of things, and the reports authors did advise caution. But when the UK is consistently reporting such bad figures, it's fair to say that there must truth behind it.

Jonathan Bradshaw was on the media yesterday arguing that that income inequality was the cause of most of the discrepancies, and while I have a lot of sympathy with this there are broader questions about the UK's culture as a whole. And we cannot just wash our hands of responsibility for these issues, and blame it all on the government. Some things they could do (eg, banning advertising to children) but with some things they can't take too direct a role (kids bedtime, or whether families have meals together). We have to take some personal responsibility for how we treat each other and what we regard as important. I'm willing to bet that if a petition about child poverty was put onto the Number 10 website it would fall far short of the petition misrepresenting road user charging (which to me looks like its asking for billions of pounds to be spent on roads). One and a half million people signed that - how many would sign a child poverty petition?

But on the issue of income inequality, I have some sympathy with the government's argument that the UNICEF figures are pretty old and it is true that hundreds of thousands of kids have moved out of poverty since then. The government don't have a bad record on child poverty, but the question is what's next? More of the same won't eradicate child poverty, and might not even bring that many more kids out of poverty, and I can't see any new ideas coming forward.

Incidentally, when the UNICEF report showed that not even the most successful countries have eradicated child poverty perhaps the government should consider a more realistic target? Say bringing child poverty under 5%, to levels similar to Scandinavia? If there is always going to be some unemployment in society, as people will always change jobs periodically, perhaps there will always be some incidences of child poverty. Reducing child poverty from one in three to one in twenty would still be one hell of an achievement.



At 6:26 pm, Anonymous anne widdicome said...

I think this is a horrible example of just how bad the problem with the youth of tiday is


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