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Wednesday, February 14, 2007


Nothing says happy Valentines like child poverty

Today saw the publication of a UNICEF report on the performance of 21 industrialised countries in child well-being. Titled ‘Child Poverty in Perspective: An Overview of Child Well-being in Rich Countries’, the report looks at the performance of countries over 40 indicators based largely on 2000-2003 data.

The findings did not show the United Kingdom in the best light, ranked 21st; the UK was in the bottom third for five of the six categories. In fact, closer reading of the standard deviation tables reveals that there is a greater distance between the UK in 21st and Hungary in 19th than there is between 9th and 19th.

It could have been worse, there were more countries which out performed the UK but as there was insufficient data in other categories, they had to be omitted from the final comparison.

The particular findings that struck me were that only 40% of UK children consider their peers to be kind and helpful, the figure for Switzerland was double this at 80% and child poverty in the UK has doubled since 1979. The UK fares terribly in terms of risk behaviours, particularly in cannabis use, drinking to drunkenness and underage sex. There’s a message to social conservatives in there as well, in that the UK has a far higher percentage of children smoking cannabis than the Netherlands (whose accessibility to drugs is much vaunted and often disparagingly so). We also have a higher number of children who have been drunk than the tabloid favourite stereotypical beer swilling Germans and a higher number of sexually active children than countries with lower ages of consent (Spain, Portugal to name but two).

On the positive side of things – almost within living memory, 1 child in every 5 in the cities of Europe could be expected to die before their fifth birthday; today, this risk is less than 1 in 100.

Finding internationally comparable data must have taken a considerable amount of work for UNICEF; it’s often the case that different local authorities in the UK report on slightly a different basis - let alone trying to collate, analyse and present data for 21 countries. The report impresses in other ways to, UNICEF recognise and indeed highlight any potential risks to the data quality. For example, the use of vehicles per household is used as an indicator of family affluence but as the report rightly states, this figure would be affected by the level of urbanisation and the quality of public transport within the country.

So to sum up - move to Scandinavia...


A quick evening browse through the right leaning blogs suggests that my praise of UNICEF isn’t similarly felt by the increasingly predictable Conservative Home, the recently maligned Iain Dale or (the new to me) Tim Worstall. The position of Tory Home and Dale in particular seems largely based on one element of the 52 page report, an element that was barely even touched upon within the document itself but brought up via the media interpretation of the UK’s pitiful showing - the administration responsible. In the same spirit as my (possibly paranoid) staunch defences of Everton football club, Dale especially has rubbished the findings of the entire report on the basis that Thatcher couldn’t possibly be in anyway responsible. Now, I don’t see as Labour can spin their way out of this either - they had served almost an entire period of office during the period that this data is based on - but the Conservative government from 79 to 97 at best contributed to the appalling state of affairs and at worst are largely responsible for it.

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