UK near bottom in Europe for child wellbeing

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Britain is one of the worst countries in Europe for children to grow up in, according to a survey, as campaigners called for 3 billion pounds ($4.35 billion) to be spent on halving child poverty by 2010.

Researchers from York University for the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) charity found that Britain ranked 24th out of 29 countries examined.

The Netherlands came top of the child wellbeing table, followed by Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Finland and Denmark, based on data from 2006.

The UK came well below countries of similar affluence and only Romania, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania and Malta, which came bottom, fared worse.

The findings echoed those of a 2007 United Nations report on children’s wellbeing which put Britain and the United States at the bottom, and the Netherlands, again, at the top.

The latest study drew on 43 separate indicators affecting children up to 19 years of age, ranging from health, poverty, education and behavior to relationships and how youngsters felt about their lives.

“The UK position is particularly influenced by the high number of children living in families where no parent works,” it noted.

CPAG’s Chief Executive Kate Green said: “The last time a child wellbeing league table was published, British people were shocked the UK came last. This time we need a frank focus on why other countries are doing so much better for their children.

“Public resolve and political action to put children first are more important than another round of hand-wringing,” she added.

The CPAG said the government had made some progress since 2006 when the data was compiled, pointing out that many initiatives were not fully reflected in the study.

In general terms, it said, the recent emphasis on the material circumstances of children and of early intervention had been right and should continue over the long term.

“It is the dose which has been inadequate, not the medicine,” the CPAG added.

However, it said the overall findings of the study are disappointing for the UK.

“They show how poorly we perform on child wellbeing, and how much better we could and should do. France has a similar GDP to the UK, yet ranks nine places higher.”

Alongside 150 organizations, the CPAG called for Chancellor Alistair Darling to announce a 3 billion pound-plus boost to benefits and tax credits in Wednesday’s annual budget to ensure the government’s 2010 target to halve child poverty is met.

The government has said its policies are lifting more than a million children out of poverty and points to its creation of a new department to focus on children, schools and families as evidence of the increased importance being given to children.

Editing by Steve Addison