UK climbs child well-being rankings but still remains behind

New research by Ipsos MORI for UNICEF UK has ranked the well-being of children in the UK in 16th place out of 29 developed countries. This is a big improvement  from the last time similar research was carried out in 2007, where the UK finished bottom of the league.

The Netherlands remain at the top of the rankings, followed by Norway and Iceland whilst the UK sits ahead of less wealthy countries such as Portugal and Slovenia. Romania remained at the bottom of the table, behind Latvia, Lithuania and the United States.

UNICEF’s Report Card 11draws on data taken from 2009/2010 and takes into account five dimensions of children’s lives;  material well-being,  health and safety, education, behaviours and risks, housing and environment.  26 indicators were included ranging from child deprivation rates, NEET rates to healthy behaviours such as eating breakfast and taking exercise via housing determinants, such as how many people share a bedroom.

In general, the UK has seen an improvement in children’s experiences  since the initial study although in comparison to peers in other countries, this progress has been slow.  UNICEF UK say ‘since 2010 the downgrading of youth policy and cuts to local government services are having a profound negative effect’. This is evident in the high numbers of young people not in education, employment or training and the UK is the only developed country in which further education rate falls below 75%.

There is good news when it comes the number of children who are overweight and those who expose themselves to health issues including smoking and cannabis use has fallen. Alcohol remains a real issue though  the UK with alcohol abuse rate by young people age 11-15 staying high at approximately 20%. Teenage pregnancy is still also a problem as whilst 18 out of 21 studies saw a drop in teen birth rates the opposite is true in the UK where numbers have increased. At the start of the decade, the UK already showed the highest fertility rate in Europe.

A really positive result for this country is that when asked about their overall life satisfaction, 85% of children reported having high levels of satisfaction, moving the UK from 16th to 11th place. We think this is a very important indicator as whilst hard data around health indices for example are valuable it is also vital to look into how young people feel about their lives.

Measuring well-being, although still a relatively new concept is increasingly important. In these tough economic times, cuts and changes to services (which will have an impact on children’s development) are regularly coming into effect and we need to be able to track what impact these have on young people. It’s not always easy to do as whilst you can track physical health outcomes or exam results, more intangible things such as confidence and self esteem are tricky to measure. Tools do exist though, such as NPC’s Well-being measure, and we hope that reports such as today’s by UNICEF will continue to fuel the focus on improving the lives of children and young people.

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