UNICEF Warns of “Looming Children’s Crisis” and the Urgent Need for the UK to Take Action to Improve the Lives of Children

UNICEF Innocenti Report Card 16, Worlds of Influence: Understanding what shapes child well-being in rich countries, gives the UK an overall ranking of 27 among 41 EU and OECD countries on children’s health, academic and social skillsets. According to the data analysis, the UK ranks 29th for mental well-being, 19th for physical health and 26th for skills.

The UK’s ranking is based on data showing that over 1 in 3 (36%) 15-year olds rated their mental well-being as poor, more than 1 in 3 (37%) children lacked basic literacy and numeracy skills  and 31% of children in the UK are now obese or overweight. In terms of overall ranking, Sky News reported that the "UK falls behind Slovakia, Romania and Iceland” respectively in ensuring child well-being.  Chile, Bulgaria and the US take the bottom spots, while the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway performed the best.

As children return to schools across the UK, the children’s agency calls for urgent action to build better futures for children and to protect them from worsening conditions due to the Coronavirus.

Based on the evidence presented in the report, UNICEF calls for all high-income countries to act on three fronts:

Consult children: Improve children’s well-being through a shift in thinking;

Governments should strengthen the opportunities for children’s voices to be systematically heard. This can be achieved through child-friendly, public policy consultations; ensuring all children know their rights; and creating new ways to take account of children’s views in schools, communities and nations. Children’s participation in society is part of consensus- building between generations on what matters most.

Connect policies: Improve children’s well-being through an integrated approach;

An integrated approach to child well-being means acknowledging the links and trade-offs between child well-being outcomes and national conditions and coordinating public policies appropriately. To be effective and efficient, child well-being interventions need an integrated approach that recognises how policy actions at one level will influence another. Governments typically assess the economic impact of legislation and policy. They should also consider routinely incorporating an equivalent assessment of their impact on children’s well-being; and

Create strong foundations: Sustain improvements for child well-being through future-proofing

Governments must plan and prepare for the future to ensure that improvements in child well-being are sustained. This means choosing policies that set a strong foundation for children and for society as a whole. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide an excellent basis for intensifying and accelerating improvements in child well-being globally. The evidence in this report suggests a range of actions that are essential to achieving these goals, including:

  1. Taking new and decisive action to reduce income inequality and poverty, and ensuring that all children have access to the resources they need.
  2. Improving access to affordable and high-quality early years’ childcare for all children.
  3. Improving mental health services for children and adolescents.
  4. Implementing and expanding family-friendly policies related to the workplace.
  5. Reducing the stubbornly high levels of air pollution, among a range of measures to protect the natural environment.
  6. Strengthening efforts to protect children from preventable diseases, including reversing recent falls in many countries in measles immunization.

These are steps that every government can take to improve the lives of children in the present and the future. Every child deserves a good childhood.

Director of the Bristol Poverty Institute (BPI) Professor David Gordon and Principal Investigator of the Poverty and Social Exclusion Group formed part of the advisory group for this UNICEF report.

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